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All About Osteoarthritis and Women

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WebMD Feature

If you've just been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA), you're not alone. Many women past age 50 discover OA is the reason for their creaking knees, aching backs, and sore fingers. Suddenly life is all about osteoarthritis -- but luckily, arthritis doesn't have to take control.

Arthritis is "the most common form of disability. It's also a natural part of aging," says Primal Kaur, MD, director of the Osteoporosis Clinic at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

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In the U.S., one in five adults has osteoarthritis -- 24 million women and 17 million men, according to the Arthritis Foundation.

"I'm constantly telling people that the body is like a car, so there's going to be wear and tear as we grow older," Kaur, an arthritis specialist, tells WebMD. Men typically feel the onset earlier in life than women do, she says. "But after age 55, more women than men will develop it -- and women often have it more severely."

All About Osteoarthritis: What's Going On Here?

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a condition that affects cartilage, the rubbery cushion covering bones in the joints, keeping them flexible. Over time, cartilage begins to stiffen and damages more easily -- and gradually it loses its "shock absorber" qualities. Bones start rubbing against each other, and the pain begins.

Women tend to be plagued by osteoarthritis more than men. Heredity increases the risk: A genetic defect triggering defective cartilage or a joint abnormality can lead to osteoarthritis. "If your mom had knobby fingers, you're more likely to develop arthritis there," says Kaur.

Other risk factors are involved: Obesity puts extra stress on knees and hips, which leads to cartilage breakdown. A sports injury, severe back injury, or broken bone takes a toll on the joints -- and pretty soon, it's all about osteoarthritis.

"Pain is the symptom that gets everyone's attention," Kaur tells WebMD.

13 Tips: Rein in Your Osteoarthritis Pain

Your life doesn't have to be all about osteoarthritis. There's much you can do to enjoy a better quality of life. By learning about your disease -- and making some changes -- you can live well.

1. Lose Weight. If you are overweight or obese, you're putting extra stress on weight-bearing joints. Losing weight lessens the risk of further joint injury. It also increases your mobility.

2. Work on Your Diet. If losing weight is a goal, talk to a dietitian to get on track with healthy eating habits. Also, antioxidant and calcium supplements can boost your bone strength: Vitamin D (400 IU daily) and calcium (1,000-1,200 mg daily). Antioxidant vitamins C and E may also provide bone protection.

3. Stay Active. Exercise is hands-down the best treatment for osteoarthritis. Exercise helps you lose weight, increases flexibility, eases pain, boosts your mood, strengthens your heart, and improves blood flow. Mall walking, swimming, and water aerobics are popular because they are easy on joints. If exercise is painful at first, stay with it... it will get easier, reducing overall pain in the long run. But be sure to talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness or diet plan.

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