The Europeans have it all figured out. At the first sign of any aches, they don’t take to bed with a bottle of Aleve. No, they head for the thermae of Italy, the baden of Germany, the baths of England, and station thermales of France The treatments at these detox meccas include water (fresh and sea) and mud therapies that promise freedom from pain — not to mention a cleaner liver. And the concept goes back millennia. After all, Spa is not an acronym for Super Place for Aerobics. Rather, it is named after the town in Belgium favored by Peter the Great. (Yes, that Peter the Great!). They are based, instead, on the restorative and healing powers of thermal and mineral springs and imbibing waters that come directly from those sources.
Alas, we in America may be hard pressed to find these types of cures closer to home as there are only a handful of natural hot springs indigenous to this country. And, truth be told, most people don’t even know they exist. Just ask someone in your office to name a liquid that makes you feel really good. I doubt hot, bubbling water would be the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, make mine a kale and celery smoothie — and a Dirty Margarita for The Lawyer.
Does this mean, though, that we have to suffer such inflammatory ailments as arthritis in silence? After all, about 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with one of the seven common forms of Arthritis. Yes, I am one of them. But limited space will not allow me to regale you with stories about my recent hip replacement! (Call me!) Curative spas aside, it is important, therefore, for patients and care givers to understand the potential impact of the disease and how best to manage it. It can be a critical part of making the decisions to make good on your intent to live a healthier lifestyle that is Better Than Before.
Let’s start with learning a little more about the illness itself. For this I turned to Phyllis Crockett, a specialty-trained pharmacist in the Accredo Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammatory Disease TRC.
“Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions,” she says. “Although common belief is that arthritis is a condition affecting the elderly, two-thirds of people with arthritis are under the age of 65, including 300,000 children. Also, arthritis affects people of all ethnicities.”
According to Crockett the vast majority of sufferers, about 27 million Americans, have what I have, Osteoarthritis (OA), which is characterized by a breakdown of joint cartridge. A vast majority of OA patients are elderly. (But it could be genetic, and the result of what sets in after you’ve sustained an injury! Hellooo!!)
The rest of arthritis sufferers have the more severe form: Rheumatoid arthritis. “Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflammation of the membranes lining the joint. Although it can strike at any age, women are typically diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60, while male patients are usually older. There are about 1.5 million affected individuals in the United States. Finally, Juvenile Arthritis (JA) is a term used to describe many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can affect children ages 16 and younger.”
The disease takes a heavy toll. “Each year, arthritis accounts for 44 million outpatient visits and over 900,000 hospitalizations. In fact, it’s the leading cause of disability in the United States and is a more frequent cause of activity limitations than heart disease, cancer or diabetes. By some estimates, 67 million Americans will have arthritis by 2030.”
So what do we do?
“Managing the disease so that patients can continue to live normal lives is important,” Crockett continues. “Each patient is different and a physician can help determine the best treatment plan, including pain management and managing the symptoms of arthritis.”
She shared with me some tips that she offers her patients, starting with exercise. “It is a valuable tool in the fight against arthritis. OA and RA patients particularly can benefit from both endurance and resistance training.”
Maintaining a healthy weight and protecting against joint injury can help prevent OA. “Every pound of weight lost reduces the pressure on each knee by 4 pounds. Even a small weight loss can be a big help in fighting it.”
Apart from lifestyle modifications, there are also many drug therapies available for arthritis patients—and doctors and specialist pharmacists can help identify the best one for you.
For patients who already are on medication to treat the condition, adherence – taking medications as prescribed – is critical to healthier outcomes.
“But do not self-medicate!” she cautions: “Combining over-the-counter medications with prescription medications can be risky, and can cause side effects such as an increase in GI irritation or a GI bleed. And don’t adjust doses or making changes to the medication regimen without checking with your health care team.”
“Watch for drug interactions: Some common medications like acetaminophen can have a drug-drug interaction with arthritis medications. Limit intake and remember that acetaminophen is often a component in common sinus, cough/cold and pain medications.”
Opt for an anti-inflammatory regimen like the Mediterranean diet – you know the drill, easy on the acidic foods like sugar, white flours, and alcohol, and sticking with leafy greens, whole grains, and lean proteins. “But some foods and beverages can block the effects of arthritis medications,” Crockett concludes. “These include grapefruit, apple and orange juice as well as milk and yogurt. Wait at least four hours after taking medications. Exact times can vary depending on the disease and the treatment. Check with a trained clinician.”
I can assure you from very painful, personal experience that if arthritis does go too far, surgery may be the only option. So if your intent is to help avoid – or at the very least, prolong – this possible outcome, be aware that lifestyle modification and medication may be the answer.