The truth is, In Western societies, the population is ageing. And so, more people are suffering from long-term (chronic) diseases. These include diseases of bones and joints — such as osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
These diseases can reduce the quality of life, because they cause pain and disability. They can also make it difficult for people to work, and place a drain on health care funds and the economy. For example, around half of all people are unable to work after suffering rheumatoid arthritis for 10 years.
This disease typically begins in late middle age. It affects cartilage (‘gristle’) in the joints. In a healthy person, this cartilage forms a protective covering on the bones where they rub together in joints. Because it is slippery, this cartilage forms a kind of ‘non-stick’ layer that keeps the bones moving smoothly against each other.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage breaks down and the underlying bones can start to grind against each other and become destroyed. In severe cases, the person may need surgery to replace the joint.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition, which can affect many tissues throughout the body. The joints are usually most severely affected. The specific cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown.
In this condition, the bones lose some of the calcium which normally makes them strong. As a result, the bones become rather light and easily broken. Not surprising that it is quite common for women over 50 years old to suffer broken bones from osteoporosis (this is less common in men). Osteoporosis is associated with old age in both sexes, and with a lack of hormones (oestrogen) in women after the menopause. It also occurs in people of all ages as a side-effect of some medicines (for example, steroids taken to treat asthma).
There are treatments for osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis, but not all patients respond and there are no ‘cures’ available yet. Treatment of osteoarthritis is still in its infancy.
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