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The Truths Behind Hand Arthritis

Symptoms and diagnosis

By Neurosurgery Singapore

What is hand arthritis? 

Arthritis can affect any joint in the body, including the joints between the 29 bones of the wrist, hand, and fingers.   Arthritis of the hand can hurt and keep you from being able to do what you want or need to do. The most common forms of arthritis in the hand are osteoarthritis, post-traumatic arthritis (after an injury), and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease in which the smooth cartilage that covers the bone surfaces at the joints either is injured or wears over time. 

What are some symptoms of hand arthritis?

Women are more likely than men to have arthritis in their hands, and often people experience arthritis symptoms in their hands before other signs of arthritis show up. Different forms of arthritis affect the hands in different ways. The most common form of arthritis, cartilage can wear down in all the joints in the fingers and thumb. Symptoms of arthritis in the hands may include:

  • Pain in some or all of the joints, including joints of the fingers, wrists, and thumbs
  • The growth of bony knobs on finger joints
  • Numbness in fingers
  • Swollen, red, or warm joints
  • Stiffness in the fingers, especially in the morning in patients who have rheumatoid arthritis
  • Growth of lumps, or nodules, under the skin of the hands in patients with rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fingers that look like “swollen sausages” in patients with psoriatic arthritis
  • Difficulty with motions that require gripping and twisting, such as opening jars

The progression of arthritis in the hands can actually be measured. People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriatic arthritis lose bone density, which can be measured with bone-density scanning, while the joint damage of osteoarthritis can usually be seen on X-rays.

“Arthritis is not a single disease; it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. People of all ages, sexes and races can and do have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America. More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older.”

What types of diagnosis?

A diagnosis is made based on a physical exam and x-ray. Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, including when they began. Your description of pain, stiffness, swelling, and limitations in joint movement will help your doctor assess your condition.

An x-ray will be taken to further exam the physical damage. It will reveal any cartilage loss, bone spurs, and joint damage. However, what shows up on an x-ray may not necessarily correlate to the amount of pain and/or disability you are experiencing, and early osteoarthritis damage may not be detectable with an x-ray.

Based on the physical evidence and x-ray evidence, your doctor will have enough information to detect and accurately diagnose osteoarthritis. There are no blood tests used to diagnose for osteoarthritis. Blood tests would only be ordered to rule out other types of arthritis.

Possible treatment methods?

Possible treatment includes:

  • Exercise — To help maintain the strength of your muscles and ligaments to stabilise your joints
  • Medicines to reduce pain, swelling and stiffness in Osteoarthritis or injections directly into a joint to relieve pain and swelling
  • Physiotherapy — For exercises to stabilise the joint
  • Surgery — To correct joint deformity or to replace a badly damaged joint

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