Fact: Arthritis is the nations leading cause of disability
What is Arthritis?
Most people think that arthritis is a single disease. It's not. As a matter of fact, arthritis is not even a disease—the term describes a symptom that is shared by a group of diseases and conditions. Arthritis literally means "joint inflammation."
"Arthritis" is commonly used as an umbrella term to refer to a group of rheumatic diseases and related conditions. Joint inflammation is the symptom that is common to the conditions that fall under the umbrella of arthritis.
Types of arthritis include:
- Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It's often related to aging or to an injury.
- Autoimmune arthritis happens when your body's immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake. Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of this kind of arthritis.
- Juvenile arthritis is a type of arthritis that happens in children.
- Infectious arthritis is an infection that has spread from another part of the body to the joint.
- Psoriatic arthritis affects people with psoriasis.
- Gout is a painful type of arthritis that happens when too much uric acid builds up in the body. It often starts in the big toe.
The most common signs and symptoms of arthritis involve the joints. Depending on the type of arthritis you have, your signs and symptoms may include:
- Decreased range of motion
The two main types of arthritis — osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis — damage joints in different ways.
The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis involves wear-and-tear damage to your joint's cartilage — the hard, slick coating on the ends of bones. Enough damage can result in bone grinding directly on bone, which causes pain and restricted movement. This wear and tear can occur over many years, or it can be hastened by a joint injury or infection.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the body's immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, a tough membrane that encloses all the joint parts. This lining, known as the synovial membrane, becomes inflamed and swollen. The disease process can eventually destroy cartilage and bone within the joint.
Risk factors for arthritis include:
- Family history. Some types of arthritis run in families, so you may be more likely to develop arthritis if your parents or siblings have the disorder. Your genes can make you more susceptible to environmental factors that may trigger arthritis.
- Age. The risk of many types of arthritis — including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout — increases with age.
- Your sex. Women are more likely than are men to develop rheumatoid arthritis, while most of the people who have gout, another type of arthritis, are men.
- Previous joint injury. People who have injured a joint, perhaps while playing a sport, are more likely to eventually develop arthritis in that joint.
- Obesity. Carrying excess pounds puts stress on joints, particularly your knees, hips and spine. Obese people have a higher risk of developing arthritis.
During the physical exam, your doctor will check your joints for swelling, redness and warmth. He or she will also want to see how well you can move your joints. Depending on the type of arthritis suspected, your doctor may suggest some of the following tests.
The analysis of different types of body fluids can help pinpoint the type of arthritis you may have. Fluids commonly analyzed include blood, urine and joint fluid. To obtain a sample of your joint fluid, your doctor will cleanse and numb the area before inserting a needle in your joint space to withdraw some fluid (aspiration).
These types of tests can detect problems within your joint that may be causing your symptoms. Examples include:
- X-rays. Using low levels of radiation to visualize bone, X-rays can show cartilage loss, bone damage and bone spurs. X-rays may not reveal early arthritic damage, but they are often used to track progression of the disease.
- Computerized tomography (CT). CT scanners take X-rays from many different angles and combine the information to create cross-sectional views of internal structures. CTs can visualize both bone and the surrounding soft tissues.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Combining radio waves with a strong magnetic field, MRI can produce more-detailed cross-sectional images of soft tissues such as cartilage, tendons and ligaments.
- Ultrasound. This technology uses high-frequency sound waves to image soft tissues, cartilage and fluid-containing structures such as bursae. Ultrasound also is used to guide needle placement for joint aspirations and injections.
What is the treatment for arthritis?
The treatment of arthritis is very dependent on the precise type of arthritis present. An accurate diagnosis increases the chances for successful treatment. Treatments available include physical therapy, home remedies, splinting, cold-pack application, paraffin wax dips, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications (ranging from acetaminophen [Tylenol] and ibuprofen [Motrin, Advil] to narcotics), immune-altering medications, biologic medications, and surgical operations.
Pain from osteoarthritis of the knee can be relieved by hyaluronic acid injections. Rheumatoid arthritis can require medications that suppress the immune system. Low back arthritis that is irritating nerves of the spine can require surgical repair. For more on treatments of particular forms of arthritis, see the corresponding articles for the form of arthritis of interest.
Want to learn more?
The following are organizations and/or websites dedicated to providing information and education surrounding Arthritis. These organizations are dedicated to research, education, awareness, and/or support. They are listed in Alphabetical order without any preference or prejudice. Listing these organizations is not a recommendation or referral in any regard for seeking treatment or consultation or support for treatment.