Osteoarthritis affects millions of people from around the world. This arthritis type is caused when the cartilage of one or several joints in the body breakdown and eventually wears away. The cartilage in the body helps by cushioning the space between bones in the joints. This is the most common type of arthritis and can occur more frequently in the elderly. This debilitating disease typically affects the hands and feet as well as the spine and weight bearing joints such as knees and hips.
It is believed that the primary cause of osteoarthritis is age. When the water content in cartilage increases, which happens as we age, the protein of that cartilage begins to degenerate. This can eventually lead to osteoarthritis. Loss of cartilage that acts as cushioning can cause friction in the bones. This leads to inflammation, pain and loss of mobility in many patients. Bone spurs or growths can also begin growing from the stimulation of the cartilage inflammation, causing even more pain and immobility.
The research currently being conducted on osteoarthritis covers four basic categories. Scientists are studying the causes and treatments of this disease along with prevention methods and education for consumers and healthcare professionals. The research into causes of osteoporosis hit a new level in the 1980s when scientists began developing new molecular biology techniques. Scientists can now look into the causes of this disease and estimate how these four factors fit together in those who have been diagnosed. Studying the chemical changes that occur with the onset of the disease helps researchers to understand why these changes occur in some people and not others.
It has long been believed that heredity plays a major role in the onset of osteoarthritis. Current research is looking into specific heredity factors and genetic markers that are common in those with this disease. New tests are also being developed that will help physicians to more correctly diagnose the different types of arthritis. Medicines have been created that have the ability to slow down the response of the immune system in patients with certain types of arthritis as well as lupus. Pharmacists are researching the various drugs used for these diseases and studying the effects on patients when the drugs are combined.
Many research facilities are currently working on ways in which patients with osteoarthritis can better help themselves at home. Studies on aerobic exercises have been ongoing and reports have shown that these exercises can strengthen the heart as well as the joints.
Prevention research has shown that those who are considered overweight have more problems with the disease. As extra weight puts added pressure on knees, hips and other joints, obese patients with osteoarthritis are much more likely to feel pain and experience longer periods of immobility. Studies have also shown that obesity raises the risk of developing this disease significantly. Current research into the prevention of osteoarthritis is studying how injury, diet and specific social support patterns can add to the risks of developing the disease.