October is arthritis month, with World Arthritis Day taking place on 12 October 2016 in support of the many people this disease affects worldwide.

“Arthritis” is very common, but is not just one disease; it refers to more than 100 different types of ailments that involve joint pain or joint disease. In some cases it can impact organs, such as the kidneys, lungs, the heart and the skin. Although you may consider arthritis to be an old man’s disease, it’s definitely not. People of all ages, sexes and races are affected. It is however more common among women and as people get older it occurs more frequently.

The cause

Although ageing is a common cause of arthritis, having a job and doing work that overuses certain joints can also be a cause. Even lifestyle factors such as being overweight, being inactive and smoking can trigger arthritis. In many cases however, the causes remain unknown.

The symptoms

The most common symptoms of arthritis include pain, swelling, stiffness and a restricted range in movement of the affected area. It can lead to joint deformity, fatigue and depression. Severe arthritis results in chronic pain which makes daily activities, including walking, extremely difficult.

The different types of arthritis

The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (degenerative arthritis) and rheumatoid arthritis (inflammatory arthritis). Other common types include psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus and even gout.

Osteoarthritis occurs from the “wear and tear” when your joints are overused. The cartilage cushioning gradually breaks down and the bones rub against each other causing pain, swelling and stiffness. Weight bearing joints such as knees, hips, feet and the spine are most commonly affected.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s own immune system becomes overactive, mistakes healthy tissue for viruses or bacteria and attacks joints (and other organs too). This causes inflammation and pain in the joints which eventually erode and are damaged permanently.

How to manage the disease naturally

Medication can help, but there are sometimes unpleasant side effects. You are able to manage some, if not all of your symptoms through a healthy diet, anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids, exercise, weight loss and natural remedies such as African Potato Cream to reduce inflammation and pain.

Where to get help

Contact the Arthritis Foundation of South Africa, the only non-profit organisation in South Africa providing non-medical support for people with arthritis, their families and carers. Their aim is to enable people with arthritis to live valuable lives through increasing awareness, providing education and offering support.

The theme for the 2016 World Arthritis Day is “It’s in your hands; take action”. Find out more on their website or Facebook page.

Get the most comprehensive information on all forms of arthritis and related studies from the Arthritis Foundation.