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Ask a Doc: Is arthritis a progressive disease?

AAD AhmadOur answer comes from Dr. Munir Ahmad, HMC Rheumatology.

Question:  Is arthritis a progressive disease?

Answer:  Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues. Osteoarthritis is one of the oldest and most common forms of arthritis and is a chronic condition characterized by the breakdown of the joint’s cartilage. Other types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis and gout. No matter which type of arthritis you have, you need an accurate diagnosis before your doctor can recommend a program for treatment.

Most often, osteoarthritis develops gradually. It may start as soreness or stiffness that seems more a nuisance than a medical concern. Pain may be moderate, intermittent and not interfere with your day-to-day existence. Some people’s osteoarthritis will never progress past this early stage. Others will continue to progress to a point where it interferes with daily activities, and the pain and stiffness make it difficult to walk, climb stairs or sleep. 

Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, and using special devices to help you get around can have a big impact on your symptoms. A group of medications known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be very helpful for relieving pain and swelling in all types of arthritis, including gout. For some people, acetaminophen (Tylenol) can relieve pain as well as NSAIDs. A few alternative treatments have been studied for arthritis relief, but before you try any of these therapies, talk to your doctor and make sure it won't have side effects or interact with other treatments you're using.

HMC Rheumatology is accepting new patients. To make an appointment, call (413)534-2682.

‘Ask a Doc’ is a weekly post by Holyoke Medical Center. To ask a question, please feel free to submit to and we will do our best to answer it.