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What to Do if You Have Arthritis, Part One

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Arthritis is a common term for inflammation of joints, however many diseases can cause arthritis. Causes of arthritis can range from osteoarthritis, which is caused by deterioration of the cartilage that usually protects the bones from rubbing against each other, to rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disorder where the body's immune system is overactive and attacking normal tissues. Most importantly, arthritis may be a sign of other systemic inflammatory processes,which can form the basis for other chronic diseases.

Each form of arthritis may have common causes or unique needs to be addressed. Causes include injury (leading to osteoarthritis), metabolic abnormalities in which the body does not process normal constituents properly (such as gout and pseudo gout), hereditary factors and infections. Arthritis can be caused by tick bites, such as in Lyme's disease. It can be caused by a diet high in animal fats or other foods which increase inflammation systemically.

Testing your body will give you the clues you need in solving the mystery of arthritis.The first step in understanding arthritis is finding out what specific type of arthritis you have. This can be done through several diagnostic tests which differentiate the causes and will help to develop a course of treatment. The common diagnostic tests for arthritis include:

• Antinuclear Antibodies (ANA): This profile helps look for diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome, lupus, polymyostitis, and scleroderma which can be sources of arthritic pain.

• Uric Acid: This acid is elevated in gout and has been associated with Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

• Sedimentation Rate (sed. rate or ESR): The erythrocyte sedimentation rate is an indication of the degree of inflammation in the body. In healthy persons, the sed. rate is low and it climbs with inflammation. It is a general indication of the amount of inflammation in the body. In lupus and polymyalgia rheumatica, the ESR often correlates with disease activity.

• C-reactive protein (CRP): CRP indicates the amount of inflammation present. It is thought to be a better test than the sed. rate for certain diseases. In patients with rheumatoid arthritis, if the CRP is high, it suggests that there is significant inflammation or injury in the body. It is also used to determine inflammation that can contribute to heart disease.

Both CRP and ESR levels are used to monitor disease activity and to monitor how well someone is responding to treatment.

• Antistreptolysin O (ASO) Antibodies: ASO Antibodies are used to determine exposure to streptococcal streptolysin O bacteria. An elevated titer indicates that a Streptococcus infection or poststreptococcal sequelae from a previous infection are present.

• Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Factor: Rheumatoid factors are a variety of antibodies that are present in 70 percent to 90 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid factor can be found in people without RA or with other autoimmune disorders, however. In general, when no rheumatoid factor is present in someone with RA, the course of the disease is less severe.

Diagnostic testing is critical in the differential diagnosis and prognosis of arthritic disorders and helps to clarify what steps you need to take in treatment. To find out more about arthritis testing and how you can save on health care go to www.saveonlabs.com/categories/Arthritis/.

Part Two of the Arthritis series will address treatment options.

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