Younger people with joint pain, swelling, or stiffness often dismiss arthritis as a cause. After all, arthritis is for old people, right?
Not at all. About 7% of doctor-diagnosed arthritis cases are in people 18 to 44. There’s even a juvenile form that occurs in children less than 16 years old. 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some form of it.
Only a doctor can tell you for sure whether you have arthritis, but here are some things to keep in mind.
A Tricky Diagnosis
Arthritis isn’t just one thing. There are more than 100 kinds. The most common form is osteoarthritis, which occurs when cartilage wears away. Another common form is inflammatory arthritis, where the immune system goes awry and attacks the body with inflammation.
Some people acquire arthritis through a bacterial infection, which is called infectious arthritis. This can come from sources like food poisoning, sexually transmitted disease, and shared needles. There’s also metabolic arthritis, where the body has trouble processing uric acid and develops gout and long-term joint pain.
Fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis are also rheumatic conditions that are part of the family of arthritis diagnoses. It’s important to learn about your specific type, because each is managed differently.
It Can Develop Slowly
At first, it can be difficult to guess whether you have arthritis. It often comes on slowly over time, beginning with mild or nagging pain. You may experience it as a swollen finger or unexplained leg pain. It might even start as exhaustion or a rash.
Below is a list of early signs of arthritis. Keep in mind that these symptoms may have other causes, so see a doctor to be sure.
Early arthritis signs:
- Ongoing warmth in a certain part of the body.
- A dull burning sensation.
- Morning stiffness, when you first wake up.
- Exhaustion, even after a long sleep.
- Repeated swelling with an unknown cause.
- A feeling of grating or grinding in joints.
- Bumps, rashes, unevenness, and cysts in the skin.
- Persistent pain in the limbs and extremities.
What Can I Do?
If you are on the young side and suspect arthritis, don’t despair. It’s a myth that nothing can be done about arthritis. Experts suspect that it comes from a combination of genetic and environmental causes.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Do not smoke.
- Eat a healthful diet low in sugar and alcohol.
- Avoid sports injuries.
- Keep a journal of pain and health issues, and show it to your doctor.
- Stay active with low-impact exercise.
- Balance activity with periods of rest.
- Adopt good sleep habits.
There’s also an emotional component to arthritis. Dealing with daily pain, stiffness, and inflammation could leave you feeling angry or even depressed. Chronic pain can be emotionally challenging.
If you are fairly young, you may tire of hearing people say, “But you’re too young to have arthritis!” People may not be able to see what’s wrong, and may not understand how you are feeling.
Talk to your doctor about emotional challenges you may be facing. Your mental health contributes to your overall health, and is an important part of living with arthritis.
Need additional information? The Primary Care Specialists at Johnson Memorial Health can help you manage your condition and provide answers to your questions.