Arthritis is a blanket term for more than 100 types of joint pain and disease that fall into categories like inflammatory arthritis and degenerative arthritis. The disease is the number one cause of disability in America.
Common arthritis symptoms include swelling, pain and stiffness in the joints, as well as difficulty moving. The symptoms can come and go, and they can range on a scale from mild to severe. Usually arthritis gets worse with time and with age. Other symptoms include loss of appetite, sleeplessness, weight loss and and fatigue.
Chronic arthritis may lead to decreased range of motion, severe pain, inability to do daily activities and immobilization.
Some types of arthritis create visible symptoms like knobs on the hands and feet (like Heberden's Nodes). Others, such as the types that affect the heart, lungs, eyes and kidneys, can only be seen via X-ray.
Arthritis is very common, affecting more than 50 million adults and 300,000 children. But the cause is not very well understood. Scientists have learned that arthritis is more common in women and aging adults, those with excess weight and family history, and those who’ve had previous injuries.
There are several types of arthritis that come with their own set of symptoms.
Osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis, falls within this category. Osteoarthritis forms when cartilage wears away and bones begin rubbing each other.
For reasons unknown, the body’s immune system can suddenly mistake joints as enemy invaders and begin attacking them with excessive inflammation. This can cause joint erosion as well as damage to other parts of the body, like the eyes and internal organs. Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis fall within this category.
Sometimes fungus, bacteria and viruses can trigger arthritis. Examples of organisms that can affect joint health include chlamydia, salmonella, hepatitis C and food poisoning.
Gout is an example of metabolic arthritis, which forms when uric acid in the body builds up and deposits needle-like crystals into the joints. Gout can become chronic and can eventually cause disability if not treated and controlled.
Treatment of arthritis depends on the type of arthritis that is causing the problems and pain. Most respond to rest, using hot and cold therapies, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and avoiding repetitive movements and injury. Further relief can come from physical therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications, and assistive devices (wearing orthotics, for example).
Early diagnosis and aggressive treatment of inflammatory arthritis is important, as catching it early on can help slow its progression and even put it into remission. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) can help achieve this.
Unfortunately, there is no concrete way to prevent arthritis. However, there are steps you can take to decrease your chances of developing arthritis. A few examples include maintain a healthy weight, exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet low in sugar and alcohol, and not smoking.