Arthritis may not come to mind at the first sign of pain, but early indications may be discomfort and stiffness of the back when getting out of bed, a pain that shoots down the leg when standing up, or a twinge of pain at the base of the thumb when twisting off a bottle cap. It’s easy to attribute these symptoms to a strained or pulled muscle from too much strenuous physical activity, but they could also be the first signs of arthritis.
The two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Often referred to as a “wear and tear” disease, osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease in which the joint cartilage deteriorates, causing pain and loss of movement as bone rubs against bone. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most crippling form of arthritis, has no known cause. The lining of the joint becomes chronically inflamed. The immune system’s white cells rally to fight the condition, but mistake the inflamed tissue for a foreign substance and destroy it.
WHEN TO CONSULT A SPECIALIST
Many diseases that fall under the arthritis “umbrella” are difficult to diagnose, particularly in their early stages. In fact, their initial symptoms often closely resemble the symptoms of a sports-related joint injury. Consequently, people tend to self-treat with heating pads, ice packs and over-the-counter medications.
In general, if symptoms persist for more than a couple of weeks, it is time to seek medical attention. While there is no cure for arthritis, most types respond best to treatment in the early stages of the disease, making an early and accurate diagnosis important, especially for inflammatory types of the disease. Regardless of the type of arthritis and its treatment, long-term, multifaceted care by a specialist is usually involved. Treatment may include medications, physical therapy, exercise, education and even surgery. A rheumatologist is uniquely qualified to diagnose and oversee a treatment regimen for all forms of arthritis.
A rheumatologist is a physician who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis and other disorders of the body’s joints,muscles and bones. After four years of medical school and three years of training in internal medicine, a rheumatologist spends an additional two to three years in specialized rheumatology training. Most rheumatologists who treat patients are board certified in the specialty and use their extensive training to detect the root causes of a patient’s pain through physical examinations and an examination of a patient’s medical history.
FINDING A RHEUMATOLOGIST
For referral to Eisenhower Medical Center rheumatologists or physicians in other medical specialties, contact the Indian Wells Center for Healthy Living at Eisenhower Medical Center at 760-568-2273.
Arthritis Fri, March 16, 1:30 to 3 p.m. Fri, April 20, 1:30 to 3 p.m. Joel Hirschberg, MD, Rheumatologist and Medical Director Arthritis Education Program Call 760-773-4535 for information and reservations.