While arthritis primarily targets the joints, its impact extends beyond joint pain and stiffness.
Arthritis is frequently associated with co-morbidities, which are other health conditions that can coexist with or be worsened by arthritis.
In this article, we will explore the complex relationship between arthritis and co-morbidities, exploring how they intersect and influence each other.
Before diving into the co-morbidities, let’s briefly understand what arthritis is.
Arthritis is not a single disease but an umbrella term used for more than 120 different types of joint disorders. The two most common forms are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
This is the most common type of arthritis in Australia and in the world, and typically occurs from joint degeneration over time. OA is often the result of a breakdown or damage to the different parts of the joint – such as the cartilage and bones. OA commonly affects weight-bearing joints like knees, hips, and the spine.
#2. Rheumatoid Arthritis
RA is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissues, leading to chronic inflammation and joint pain. It can affect various joints, including hands, wrists, and knees. RA is a systemic condition, meaning if left untreated it can spread around the body causing inflammation in other joints and organs. That’s why it is so important to get a diagnosis and start treatment as your chances of controlling the condition is better.
The Complex Connection with Co-Morbidities
Arthritis rarely travels alone, it may often come with co-morbidities. The co-morbidities may significantly impact the overall health and well being of people with arthritis. Here are some common co-morbidities associated with arthritis:
#1. Cardiovascular Disease
There may be a link between arthritis, particularly RA, and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. Chronic inflammation, a typical symptom of arthritis, can also affect blood vessels and the heart. For more information, read our article on arthritis and heart health.
Obesity is both a risk factor for developing arthritis and may be a consequence of living with the condition. Excess weight places added stress on joints, particularly the knees and hips, contributing to the development and progression of some types of arthritis. For more information, read our article on arthritis and weight.
There’s a bidirectional relationship between diabetes and arthritis. People with type-2 diabetes are more likely to develop some types of arthritis, like osteoarthritis, and having arthritis can make it more challenging to manage diabetes due to reduced physical activity and medication interactions. To read more about the connection between diabetes and arthritis, read this article from Arthritis Foundation.
#4. Depression and Anxiety
Living with chronic pain and reduced mobility can lead to psychological distress. Arthritis can increase the risk of depression and anxiety, which in turn, may worsen arthritis symptoms. Read our article for more information on arthritis and mental health.
Arthritis can lead to reduced physical activity, which may result in decreased bone density. This increases the risk of osteoporosis, a condition characterised by brittle bones which are prone to fractures. Read our article for more information on osteoporosis and arthritis.
#6. Chronic Respiratory Conditions
Studies have shown a higher prevalence of chronic respiratory conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) among individuals with arthritis. Inflammation in arthritis may contribute to respiratory issues.
The Impact on Treatment and Management
The presence of co-morbidities can complicate the management of arthritis.
Medications used to treat arthritis may interact with drugs prescribed for co-morbidities, making it crucial for your healthcare team to coordinate care.
Also, when making changes to how you live, like exercising more or changing what you eat, it’s important to think about both arthritis and any other co-morbidities you might have.
Arthritis is more than just joint pain; it’s a complex condition often accompanied by co-morbidities that can have a large impact on someone’s overall health.
Recognising and managing these coexisting conditions is important for providing comprehensive care and improving the quality of life for those with arthritis.
Having a varied healthcare team, involving a rheumatologist, doctor, and specialists in co-morbid conditions is essential to effectively navigate living with arthritis and co-morbidities.