Affecting Canadians young and old, regardless of background or ethnicity, arthritis inflicts chronic pain and can lead to a debilitating loss of mobility. One in six adults over the age of 15—or over 4.6 million Canadians—report having arthritis. By 2036, this number is expected to grow to an estimated 7.5 million.
September is National Arthritis Awareness Month—an opportunity to shine the spotlight on one of the most prevalent chronic health conditions in Canada. Although it is common belief that this disease primarily affects the elderly, nearly three out of five people with arthritis are of working age. Among all causes of disability in Canada, arthritis ranks first among women and third among men, creating an impact on the Canadian economy in health-care costs and lost productivity of approximately $33-billion each year.
Arthritis and related conditions are a group of around 100 disorders affecting joints, ligaments, tendons, bones and other components of the musculoskeletal system. The main symptoms—chronic joint pain, stiffness and swelling—can result in significantly reduced quality of life, and disability. Understanding the potential impact of the disease on lifestyle and how best to manage it can help patients as well as caregivers work towards better health outcomes.
The two primary types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. While both cause chronic pain and disability, they have different symptoms and require types of treatment. Osteoarthritis, the most common form, is the result of “wear and tear” on the joints. It tends to appear later in life and worsen over time.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its joints. Its onset can be sudden and severe.
Experts share the following tips relating to therapies and lifestyle:
Take good care of yourself to relieve pain, improve function and cope with difficult emotions. Since each patient is different, consulting a physician is crucial for determining the best treatment plan, which may include drug therapy as well as complementary therapies.
Follow your treatment plan and take medications as prescribed by your doctor. It’s important to check with a doctor or pharmacist before adjusting doses or making changes to the medication regimen. Don’t self-medicate – combining over-the-counter medications with prescription medications can be risky and can cause side effects such as gastrointestinal problems.
Exercise can be a valuable tool in the fight against arthritis and many patients benefit from endurance and resistance training. It’s also recommended that you maintain a healthy weight.
Avoid positions or movements that put extra stress on joints and use your strongest joints and muscles. For example, push open heavy doors with your arm or shoulder to protect finger and wrist joints.
Simplify your life by eliminating unnecessary activities and organize work and storage areas for easy access. Labour-saving items and adaptive aids, like electric can openers and mixers, can help make difficult chores easier. Home modifications, such as grab bars and suction mats, help to increase your safety.
Ask for help. While maintaining a level independence may be important to arthritis patients, enlisting support for specific tasks by educating family members and friends about the disease and the limitations it brings can considerably ease the burden.
Be mindful of potential drug interactions. Since some common medications such as acetaminophen can interact negatively with arthritis medications, it’s recommended to seek advice before taking additional medication. Certain foods or drinks can also block the effects of arthritis medications. These include grapefruit, apple and orange juice, and milk and yogurt, which may only be consumed after waiting at least four hours after taking medications (exact times vary depending on the treatment).
At Express Scripts Canada’s Active Pharmacy, our pharmacists are available to do a full review of all the medicines and supplements a patient takes or is considering. While this can be done at any time (our pharmacists are available to members by telephone 24/7), it’s especially valuable when your doctor prescribes a new prescription medication or you have a concern about your health.