Heberden’s nodes – are these an inevitable part of aging?

Just when I’d started getting used to being 50 in the next month or so, up pops Heberden’s nodes.  Apparently another one of aging’s little surprises! I looked down at my hands wondering why my little finger was swollen and blue and sore. I went through my past 24 hours thinking “why is this so?”.  No, I hadn’t been drinking and knocked myself.  No, I hadn’t been doing unusual manual labor.  No I hadn’t eaten any weird inflammatory food.

I did the responsible thing and had blood tests which showed no signs of inflammatory markers.  Most of my doctor friends (did a flurry of text and phone calls) couldn’t shed light on the matter.  Then – a breakthrough.  Spoke to a very good GP who seems to know about every medical condition under the sun and he nailed it straight away!  You have Heberden’s nodes.  Heberden’s nose?  I misheard this in my distress and immediately my mind jumped to images of a crone and walking stick and I certainly wasn’t going down a slow aging pathway, one focused on embracing the aging process with a positive attitude!!  What came next was even more disturbing – “and it is simply part of the wear and tear of aging and you can’t really do much about it”.

What are Heberden’s nodes?

Heberden’s nodes are hard or bony swellings that can develop in the joints closest to the end of the fingers and toes. They make your fingers and toes look bulbous and arthritic and are actually a sign of osteoarthritis. How depressing, particularly as I have another 50 years to go and had my mind set on becoming a late age athlete!  Heberden’s nodes are apparently more common in women than in men, and there seems to be a genetic component involved in predisposition to the condition.  Next step was to check out my gene tests on 23andme to see if they could shed some light. Next step was to check out info on Osteoarthritis…

What is osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is caused by cartilage breakdown in the joints. Cartilage is made up of 65 to 80 percent water, collagen, proteoglycans and chondrocytes (cartilage producing cells). Cartilage acts as a cushion between the bones of joints, allowing the bones to glide over one another and also absorbs the shock from movement of the joints.

When you lose your cartilage, it can get to the point where there is rubbing of bone on bone. This can ultimately lead to fluid accumulation and bony overgrowth causing severe chronic pain, loss of mobility and disability. Osteoarthritis is known as degenerative joint disease (DJD), wear-and-tear arthritis and osteoarthrosis.

What are the treatments for osteoarthritis?

I did a quick search and got quite confused.  It highlights the problem with having too much information available with the added challenge to establish who the credible sources are. Traditional medical sources tell us to take the bitter pill and get on with it [life].  As a first step, the recommendation is to try supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin. These have been shown to relieve the pain and stiffness in some (but not all) sufferers. If you do not benefit after a two-month trial, then don’t bother. The manufacturers sometimes make claims that these supplements “rebuild” cartilage. This claim has not been adequately verified by scientific studies to date.

Bugger that. I’ll report back with a plan of attack as I’m not going to put up with this or simply put a bandaid over the matter and treat the symptoms.  Next step will be to check out stem cell injections using your own fat cells.

Last Reviewed 01/Mar/2014

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Whilst wielding a couple of dumbbells in a gym class in 2003, Kate experienced an epiphany around the lack of accepted best practice guidelines when it came to staying well and avoiding disease. Kate realized that she had no chance of slowing her own aging process unless she became better educated about her options.
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