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We all know what arthritis is, right? Well, yes and no.

Broadly speaking, the term arthritis means inflammation of the joints, so that most people with arthritis will experience some level of difficulty or pain in moving around or performing everyday tasks. But there are several different types of arthritis, which affect people in different ways and require different treatments and coping strategies. 

Arthritis is a rheumatic disease – 'rheumatic' meaning aches and pains in the joints, bones and muscles. There are more than 200 kinds of rheumatic diseases, so it is perhaps not surprising that around 10 million people in the UK have some form of arthritis.

Although there is currently no cure for arthritis, there is a lot that can be done to manage the condition and its symptoms, helping people with arthritis to lead full and active lives. An invaluable resource here in the UK is the national charity Arthritis Care. It is Britain's largest organisation working with and for people with arthritis, providing a wealth of help, advice, information and support. You can visit its website by clicking here, or call its free national helpline on 0808 800 4050.

The two main types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The first of these, osteoarthritis, is the most common type and is often called "wear and tear" arthritis. As that name suggests, it is usually (but not always) found in older people whose bodies have sustained a fair amount of wear and tear.

Several different joints can be affected, but osteoarthritis is most frequently found in the hands, knees, hips, feet and spine. It is more common among women and can be triggered by an injury to a particular joint, even if it occurred many years previously. Although osteoarthritis cannot be cured, the condition can settle down after a number of years and there are plenty of things that people living with the condition can do to relieve and lessen its effect, both in terms of medication and lifestyle.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an "autoimmune" disease – in other words, one in which the body turns on itself by producing antibodies that attack its own tissues. RA is a progressive disease causing inflammation in the joints and, in many cases, resulting in painful deformity and immobility. It particularly affects fingers, wrists, feet and ankles.

As with osteoarthritis, there is a good deal that can be done to tackle RA, both in slowing its progression and dealing with its effects. We'll be looking in more detail in another blog later this week at ways of managing arthritis.

If you think you might be suffering from a rheumatic disease, the first thing to do is see your doctor and start on the road to getting an accurate diagnosis. The main symptoms are discomfort, pain and stiffness in one or more joints. It can also cause fatigue by disrupting sleep due to discomfort at night. One in five GP visits involves the symptoms of arthritis, so rest assured that health professionals are well versed in finding the causes.

With so many types of rheumatic diseases, it is important that you know what you are dealing with so you have the best strategy to move forward.  And don't make the assumption that arthritis and similar conditions only affect elderly people. Arthritis affects people of all ages. In the UK there are around 12,000 children with arthritis and around 27,000 under the age of 25 living with the condition in some form.

For people whose mobility is affected by arthritis, one of the main obstacles can be the stairs in their home. Climbing the stairs can become difficult, painful and even dangerous.

Acorn Stairlifts are specially designed to be user-friendly for people with arthritis and we are proud to be the first stairlift company awarded the Arthritis Foundation's Ease of Use commendation. For people who have difficulty bending at the knees, we also produce a Sit/Stand stairlift, giving users the option to do either as they glide smoothly and effortlessly up and down stairs.

Acorn Stairlifts' Medical Advisor Dr Hilary Jones said: "As a doctor I know that modern medicine can always help with arthritis, even if it cannot always cure it. But for everyday practical help there are many other important considerations amongst which, at the top of the list, must surely be a stairlift."

Remember, for a raft of help and advice, including downloadable factsheets and booklets, on all aspects of arthritis, the Arthritis Care website is the best place to turn. The charity is also a membership organisation, and becoming a member not only helps Arthritis Care continue its invaluable work but also gives access to the full range of its services throughout the UK.

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