Arthritis is a common condition that affects over 50 million adults and 300,000 children. Researchers still have much to learn about this condition, which is also America’s leading cause of disability. Arthritis can affect anyone, but it is most common in women and in older adults. It is estimated that 26% of women and 18% of men will be diagnosed with arthritis. Nearly two-thirds of adults who live with arthritis fall between the ages of 18 and 64, the typical working age in America. This article is meant to educate you on the facts about arthritis and on what you should do if you are concerned that you may suffer from it.
In simple terms, arthritis is a condition that causes joint inflammation. This condition can affect one joint, or it can affect multiple joints. Its symptoms often develop gradually, though sometimes a person may experience a sudden onset of symptoms. While most commonly diagnosed in adults over the age of 65, anyone can develop arthritis. The term arthritis covers over 100 different conditions that involve the joints. However, some types of arthritis can affect other parts of the body, such as the skin.
As previously mentioned, about 100 different types of arthritis exist. This section will briefly discuss the most common types.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. This type results from normal wear and tear and/or overuse of the joints. Osteoarthritis typically occurs with age, but obesity (excess weight on the joints) can also cause injury to the joints. Osteoarthritis impact weight-bearing joints, such as the spine, feet, hips, and knees.
Rheumatoid arthritis, also known as RA, is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system attacks a person’s own body—in this case, the joints. RA causes inflammation and leads to severe joint damage. It generally affects joints that bear pressure from regular body movements, like heels, knuckles, and elbows. This type of arthritis may cause the formation of rheumatoid nodules.
Psoriatic arthritis generally occurs in people who have psoriasis, so symptoms manifest on the skin and in the joints. Psoriasis is a skin condition that can cause patchy, raised red and white areas on the skin. Psoriasis usually only affects one or a few joints at a time, most commonly the knees, spine, fingers, and toes.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
Most commonly occurring in children who are age 16 or younger, juvenile idiopathic arthritis can affect various joints, depending on the type of arthritis from which the child suffers. This type of arthritis can interfere with a child’s normal, healthy growth.
Infections in the body can wreak havoc on many of its systems. In the case of reactive arthritis, infections can lead to joint pain and swelling. Reactive arthritis usually affects the knees, ankles, and feet.
Caused by uric acid buildup in the joints, gout generally affects the big toe or some other area in the foot. Gout can be caused by various problems, such as the overproduction of uric acid in the body, the dietary overconsumption of uric acid, or the kidneys’ inability to process uric acid properly.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects internal organs and joints. Swelling may occur with pain in the affected joints.
Different types of arthritis can be identified by various symptoms.
- Bone spurs
- Joint pain
- Stiffness, especially after waking up or sitting for long periods
- A grating sensation in the affected joint
- Decreased range of motion
Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms
- Joint pain and swelling that lasts for more than six weeks
- Stiffness in the morning that lasts at least 30 minutes
- Multiple affected joints, particularly in the feet, wrists, or hands
- Pain in the same joints on both sides of the body
Infectious Arthritis Symptoms
- Joint inflammation
- Sharp pain related to infection or injury somewhere else in the body
- Weight loss
- Recurring fever
- Joint stiffness
- Blotchy rash found on the legs and arms
Other symptoms include the following:
- Decreased range of motion
- Joint warm to the touch
- Intense joint pain
There is no one common cause for all types of arthritis. Some causes include the following:
- An injury that leads to degenerative arthritis
- Autoimmune conditions
- Metabolic issues
Some people have a genetic predisposition for developing arthritis, but this is not the only potential cause.
In many cases, multiple factors can cause arthritis. For instance, a poor diet can cause inflammation and lead to obesity. Obesity can cause arthritis because excess weight may damage joints and lead to inflammation.
Some risk factors that have been associated with arthritis include the following:
Age: With advanced age comes a higher risk of developing arthritis.
Genetics: Specific genes have been linked to certain types of arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and rheumatoid arthritis.
Sex: Many types of arthritis tend to be more common in women. Gout, however, occurs more often in men.
Obesity/Overweight: Carrying excess weight can contribute to the progression and onset of arthritis, particularly in the knees
Infection: Some infections can infect the joints and trigger different types of arthritis.
Joint injuries: Damage from trauma to a joint can lead to the development of osteoarthritis in the injured joint.
Occupation: Occupations that involve repetitive motions on the joints, such as constant kneeling, can cause osteoarthritis in the joints.
Different complications can occur, depending on the type of arthritis from which a person suffers. Here are some common complications:
- Difficulty performing daily tasks
- Difficulty walking due to pain
- Inability to stand up straight
- Deformation or twisting of the joint
- Rheumatoid nodules: These lumps of tissue form under the skin in areas like the elbows or fingers. Unless they form in sensitive spots, treatment is usually unnecessary because they often resolve on their own.
- Eye problems: Some types of arthritis can lead to eye inflammation and, when left untreated, could lead to other issues, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and blindness.
- Growth issues: Juvenile arthritis interferes with a child’s growth and bone development. Medications used to treat this condition can also inhibit growth.
- Rashes/Skin patches: Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis often cause the formation of rashes or red and white patches on the skin.
- Heart problems: Certain types of arthritis can lead to heart problems caused by complications related to inflammation and by the medications used to treat these conditions.
If you are concerned that you may have some form of arthritis, you should see a doctor as soon as possible to prevent further damage and to start treatment immediately. When you see a doctor, they will diagnose arthritis with a physical exam and diagnostic tests.
Prior to a physical exam, you will be asked a series of questions about your medical and family history. This part of the exam will help the provider determine how long you have had pain and identify whether you have a family history of arthritis, as well as any potential injuries that could lead to it. The doctor will also ask about your lifestyle habits, such as if you exercise regularly.
After the initial family and medical history evaluation, the doctor will perform a physical examination. The doctor will look over the body to check for any noticeable swelling, redness, or stiffness in the joints. The physical exam will check for a symmetrical pattern to the pain, meaning that the pain affects the same joints on both sides of the body. The physical exam will also help determine the presence of any fluid in the joints and measure your range of motion. The exam will conclude with taking vitals.
Based on the findings of the physical exam, the doctor will perform either lab or Imaging tests or both. The blood tests check for the presence of antibodies, provide a general look at your overall system, and measure levels of inflammation. If the doctor finds fluid in a joint, they may use a needle to draw it out and send it to a lab for analysis. They may also order a genetic test for more information. As far as imaging tests go, x-rays are the most common test used to diagnose arthritis. However, the doctor may also use an MRI or ultrasound to more closely examine joints for symptoms. The doctor reads these tests and looks for signs of various issues, such as cartilage loss, structural changes in the joint, location/amount of fluid, soft tissue tears, and inflammation.
In most cases, this test easily diagnoses arthritis, but this is not always the case. With well over 100 different types of arthritis, it can be challenging for a doctor to pinpoint which type you have. Sometimes, different types can be mistaken for others.
A combination of medications, exercises, and lifestyle changes may be recommended as treatment to help relieve symptoms and improve quality of life.
The type of drug a doctor prescribes will depend on the type of arthritis you have. Analgesics, like acetaminophen, tramadol, and oxycodone/hydrocodone, may relieve pain but do not reduce inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Other types of medications commonly used to treat arthritis include corticosteroids, biologics, counterirritants, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
Occupational therapy can improve quality of life and protect joints from further damage by teaching you better ways to perform daily activities. Occupational therapists can show you how to correctly use joints and muscles, offer you braces and supports to help protect your joints, and teach you how to use devices to perform various tasks.
Depending on your specific situation, your doctor may recommend surgery to restore function and mobility. For instance, a synovectomy is a procedure that removes damaged connective tissue. Spinal surgery may be performed to relieve pain in people who suffer from extreme back and/or neck pain due to their arthritis. Knee and hip replacements are also performed when necessary.
Your doctor may also recommend dietary changes. If you suffer from gout, you may need to reduce your intake of uric acid. You might also be advised to consume inflammation-reducing foods, for example, berries, broccoli, avocado, salmon, etc. If your arthritis is caused by obesity, a weight-loss diet may help relieve excess strain on joints and allow you to get replacement surgery, if needed.
Arthritis is a common condition that many people live with today. With a proper treatment plan, you can live a full and happy life. Arthritis can hold you back if you allow it to, but if you stick to your treatment plan, you can enjoy a better-quality life than you ever thought possible.
Disclaimer: No content on this site should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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