Arthritis is a condition that has afflicted people for thousands of years. Despite its long history, arthritis is not fully understood, and treatment options are still being explored. Although there is no cure for most forms of arthritis, means of managing the condition have improved significantly in recent years. The following three advances show particular promise to help people living with various types of arthritis.
1. Steps Toward Earlier Diagnosis
In recent years, researchers have made progress toward finding ways to catch arthritis earlier, while joint damage is minimal. Osteoarthritis may be revealed early on by the presence of biomarkers indicating cartilage injury. These markers can be found in the joint fluid or blood. Decreases in the water content of cartilage may also be a sign of osteoarthritis, since healthy cartilage is more adept at holding fluid in.
Rheumatoid arthritis, meanwhile, may be diagnosed sooner through a new microarray technique. By observing whether the antibodies in a person’s blood sample target the substances found in joints, a doctor may be able to make an earlier diagnosis.
2. Improved Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments
Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis have progressed significantly in the last few decades, with the use of immune system-suppressing medications and biologics. Now, the same microarray technique that may help scientists detect rheumatoid arthritis early could also help them create customized treatments for each patient. Custom treatments could allow the immune system to maintain its normal function without attacking joint substances.
New research also suggests that, when people suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, their immune systems incorrectly target a family of complex carbohydrates found in joint tissue. Researchers are exploring whether this happens because of genetics or because of changes to the carbohydrates caused by bacteria or viruses. If a virus or strain of bacteria is responsible, immunizations may prevent the change from occurring and stop the arthritis from developing.
3. Better Surgical Techniques and Outcomes
In the last few decades, joint surgeries ranging from arthroscopy to arthroplasty have become less invasive and more likely to succeed. Surgical procedures are generally less invasive now that alternatives to open surgery, such as laparoscopic surgery, are widely available. After these less-invasive procedures, patients typically enjoy a shorter recovery time, less discomfort and scarring, and a lower risk of complications. This makes it easier for patients to commit to surgery and fit the procedure into their schedules.
With the development of new implant materials, artificial joints also last much longer. Some replacement joints may last 15 to 20 years. This may make earlier replacement surgeries feasible for a larger number of people. People who develop post-traumatic arthritis at relatively young ages age may benefit from being able to have a joint replacement sooner. So may adults who have lived with arthritis for years after developing the condition as juveniles.
Hope for Arthritis Victims
Some of these advances will benefit people who have not yet developed arthritis, while others can help people who already have the condition. People who currently suffer from arthritis should make sure to speak with their physicians about new advances and potential treatment options. Where old treatments may have failed or fallen short, new treatments may offer pain relief, functionality, and other life-long benefits for people with severe arthritis.