We all know that being overweight can exacerbate or cause a variety of health problems. Many chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, have direct links to excess weight. It surprises some people to learn that arthritis is also affected by a person's weight. Obesity - when weight is considerably higher than considered healthy for a certain size - doesn't just make arthritis worse, it actually increases the risk of getting some types of arthritis. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) note that one in three obese Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis - compared to one in five Americans in general.
The most common type of arthritis: Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA) - the wearing down of structures in the joint that leads to pain and stiffness - is the most common type of arthritis. It can affect any joint but is most common in knees, hips ,spine, and hands. OA is a degenerative joint disease, which means it gradually worsens over time. As a result, OA is more common in adults over 50 years of age. OA can also affect people differently. Some may have mild symptoms with little progression, while others may have symptoms that significantly worsen over time, affecting mobility and quality of life.
Why your weight matters
The more weight that is placed on a joint, the more stressed that joint becomes and the more likely it will be damaged and worn down. That's a direct correlation between excess weight and OA. The Arthritis Foundation notes: Every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees. So a person who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on his knees; if a person is 100 pounds overweight, that is 400 pounds of extra pressure on his knees. That's why people who are overweight are at greater risk of developing arthritis in the first place.
A different impact on rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a common inflammatory disease that affects connective tissue throughout the body - most often in the joints. RA is quite different from OA in that it is an autoimmune disorder. With an autoimmune disorder, the immune system mistakenly identifies healthy body tissues as foreign tissue and attacks it. In RA, the joint tissue is attacked. This attack causes irritation, swelling and a thickening of the fluid in the joint which causes the hallmark redness, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. Over time, this consistent inflammation wears away at the cartilage and bone inside the joint, making the nearby tendons weak and movement painful adn difficult. The exact cause of autoimmune disorders like RA is not known but the inflammatory chemicals in body fat may play a factor.
Make healthy choices to reduce arthritis discomfort
If you are diagnosed with arthritis, talk to your doctor about lifestyle choices you can make to reduce your discomfort. Focus on achieving a healthy weight and increasing your activity:
- Eat low-fat, low calorie foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Look for foods with Vitamin C, which can help reduce inflammation
- Avoid alcohol
- Reduce stress