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Arthritis: Everything You Need to Know

Estimates have it that up to 1 in every 5 Americans have arthritis. This disorder can affect people of all ages, but it becomes more common as individuals get older. It can interfere with your level of activity and overall quality of life. It is a major reason many people miss work in the United States. What causes arthritis and how do you deal with the problem?

About the Arthritis

The word "arthritis" comes from Greek. It is a combination of the terms "arthro" (joint) and "itis" (inflammation). It effectively describes a disorder characterized by inflammation of the joints. So, it can be used to describe not just one condition, but many. There are between 100 and 200 types that affect different joints of the body.

Arthritis can develop all of a sudden, but it is usually a progressive disease. It may be present alongside other conditions in the body. The disorder is regarded as the most common cause of disability in America. It also has mental implications.

Arthritis is a costly problem as well. In 2003, it accounted for $128 billion in health costs alongside other related conditions.

Types of Arthritis


You have one of numerous conditions when you are told you have arthritis. These diseases are said to number up to roughly 200! The two most common of the different types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


This is the most common form of arthritis. Research shows it affects over 3.8 percent of people. About 27 million American adults are believed to have it. Osteoarthritis belongs to the group of degenerative or mechanical arthritis. It results from degeneration of cartilage and joint. People are more like to have it as they get older. The disorder mostly affects joints in the finger, knee and hip.

Rheumatoid arthritis

An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis is the second most common form of arthritis. Although it affects less than 1 percent of people, that is a lot when you consider total population. About 1.5 million adults are said to have it in the U.S. It is the result of damage done to cartilage and bone by constant inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect persons of all ages.

Other Common Forms

Some of the other types of arthritis are also common, although less so as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. Others rarely occur. Those that many people know more about include:

Gout – This is estimated to affect up to 2 percent of people in the West at certain points in their lives. Gout is a member of the metabolic arthritis group. It results from inefficient handling of uric acid in the body. This leads to buildup in joints. The accumulation, in turn, brings about needle-like crystals that cause inflammation and pain.

Typically, a single joint or a handful of joints are affected by gout. It may begin with one joint and then gradually spread to other joints. The big toe is most known to be affected by the disorder.

There is also a related condition known as pseudo gout. This is, however, less common. It results from accumulation of rhomboid crystals of calcium pyrophosphate.

Systemic lupus erythematosus – Often referred to simply as lupus, SLE belongs to similar group as rheumatoid arthritis. This is because it is also an autoimmune disorder. It results from an immune system that attacks healthy body cells. It mistakes these for foreign bodies that have to be eliminated. This leads to inflammation and tissue damage.

SLE is rather dangerous in that its effects are felt beyond joints in the body. It can affect the brain, kidneys and cardiovascular system. The disease occurs mostly between the ages 15 and 40, but can be present at any age. Women are more likely to have it. Estimates show it possibly affects more than 300,000 people in the U.S.

Fibromyalgia – This is one of the more common arthritic conditions, with an incidence rate of about 2 percent in North America. Older individuals tend to have fibromyalgia more. Diagnosis typically occur during middle age.

The exact cause of this type of arthritis is not known. In many cases, fibromyalgia may be present with other forms such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

Septic arthritis – Bacteria or fungi can also cause you to have arthritis. If this is the case, you are said to have septic arthritis. Knees and hips are more commonly affected by this type. There are estimated 20,000 instances in the U.S. every year.

Septic arthritis may be described based on the particular microorganism that caused it. For instance, you are said to have gonoccocal arthritis when the bacteria responsible for gonorrhea is the cause. Candida albican, staphylococcus, and streptococcus are among microorganisms that can give rise to septic arthritis.

This problem may come up at any age. In children, it usually occurs before the age of three. Septic arthritis demands urgent treatment to guard against joint damage that cannot be corrected.

Types of arthritis also include:

  • Ankylosing spondilitis
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Still's disease
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Sjogren's disease

Arthritis is just a secondary condition in a good number of its numerous forms.

Causes and Risk Factors

There is no single cause for all types of arthritis. You may have noticed that from the description of some of the forms. It may result from cartilage damage that can occur due to the normal wear and tear that comes with aging. This is the case with osteoarthritis.

The disorder could also be the result of antibodies produced by your immune system attacking healthy cells. Bacteria and fungi can cause arthritis to develop. Repetitive injuries to the joints, poor metabolism, traumatic events and, of course, medical conditions are also possible causes. There may be more than one causative factors in some cases.

The likelihood of people having one form of arthritis or another depends on a number of factors. They include:

Genetics – Having someone in your family with arthritis may suggest you are at an increased risk of developing it. Researchers have observed that certain genes make people more susceptible to some forms, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Age – While people of all ages can have arthritis, it is mainly a disease of older individuals. The older you become, the more likely you are to develop the disorder. Majority of those affected in North American are 65 years or older.

Sex – If you are a woman, evidence suggests you are at a greater risk of this disorder. More females are affected across all ages. Some estimate indicates that 3 of every 5 persons that suffers from the condition are female.

Obesity – Arthritis is just another of the many problems overweight and obesity can lead to. This is more likely to be the case with osteoarthritis.

Smoking and heavy alcohol intake put you at greater risk of having this disorder. Sedentary lifestyle and certain medications, including some used for depression, seizure and cancer, are risk factors as well.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Joint pain is a common symptom of many, if not all, types of this disease. This is what jolts many of those affected into taking action. The intensity of this pain do vary between forms. In addition, common signs that may be seen include:

Stiffness – You may feel the affected joint becoming rather stiff, especially when you wake in the morning. The stiffness could also be noticed after using such joint for an activity or being in sitting position for prolonged duration.

Swelling – Due to inflammation, arthritis can cause swelling around joints. This may be accompanied by redness and feeling of warmth in the area.

Reduced mobility – The pain that comes with the condition can decrease your range of motion. Something as simple as getting out bed in the morning may become difficult. You may not be able to walk or use your hands properly.

There is a longer list of symptoms that can arise from arthritis. But these vary between the different types. Some, such as rheumatoid and SLE, produce more wide-ranging symptoms due to their effects on different parts of the body. Among other symptoms are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling of being unwell
  • Muscle aches and weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Poor sleep
  • Cell and tissue damage
  • Painful menstruation
  • Vision changes
  • Mental health issues
  • Swollen glands

Going by these symptoms, one can easily see why arthritis is a major cause of disability in America. According to the CDC, excess of 20 million of arthritic patients in the country experience limitations with regard to ability to perform regular activities.

How is Arthritis Diagnosed?

You should consider seeing your doctor if you have noticed some of the symptoms listed above. The first step to diagnosis will usually be a physical examination of the affected joint. Your doctor will check for symptoms such as redness and decreased range of motion. He may also assess your medical history.

If arthritis is suspected, it is usual for X-ray tests to be required to have a view of the affected part(s). It gives an idea of the extent of the problem. A series of blood tests may also need to be done. Among others, these screen for antinuclear factor, rheumatoid factor, and extractable nuclear antigen.

Synovial biopsy, joint MRI scan, and electrocardiogram (ECG) are some of several other tests that may be needed, depending on the particular form suspected.

How Arthritis is Treated

Interventions for this disorder are aimed at reducing associated pain and keeping it from getting worse. Majority of, or probably all, types of primary arthritis do not have known medical cure. This explains why treatments are directed at addressing the symptoms.

Physical therapy

This is a popular intervention for combating arthritis. Physical therapy helps to deal with reduced range of motion and preserve the health of affected joints through exercise. It equips you with ability to surmount challenges associated with the disease. This treatment is often combined with massage and use of ice or heat packs.

In some cases, physical therapy is done concurrently with occupational therapy. This better ensures that your ability to perform normal daily tasks is not hindered. Warm-water therapy may also be advised in some cases in order to lower pressure on joints and muscles.


There are drugs used for treatment of arthritis. These are either targeted at dealing with pain, inflammation and/or underlying medical conditions.

Pain relievers – Depending on what type you are having, your doctor may suggest some popular pain relieving drugs. These include acetaminophen (paracetamol), hydrocodone (Vicodin) and tramadol (Ultram). Such analgesics are typically used where inflammation is not a major factor in the disorder.

NSAIDs – Fully known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDs are usually suggested for dealing with inflammatory arthritis. They both help to reduce pain and fight inflammation. Examples include ibuprofen and salicylates. Extra caution may be required when using these medications. Besides tablets, you can also get them in form of creams, gels or patches.

Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – These may be used alongside pain relievers and anti-inflammatory drugs. DMARDs are usually used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. They keep your immune system from continuing to attack your body cells and joints. The treatment initiates an adaptive immune response to slow progression of the disorders. An example is methotrexate (Trexall).

Immunosuppressants, such as cortisone and prednisone, may also be used for treatment for arthritis - they suppress the immune system and control inflammation. Creams containing menthol or the hot pepper constituent capsaicin can be rubbed on affected joints to interfere with transmission of pain.


In some cases, a surgical procedure may be needed in order to correct your arthritis. This is more likely to be the case when the condition has reached an advanced stage. Surgery is mostly done to correct problem affecting joints in fingers, wrists, hips and knees.

Surgical procedures were incorporated into treatment from the 1950s. They may be done to replace defective joints with artificial alternatives. A joint fusion procedure is carried out in some cases when the disorder has done significant damage to fingers or wrists. This joins ends of bones and these become one when fully healed.

Lifestyle changes

You can manage arthritis or reduce risk of developing it by maintaining a healthy diet. Although there is no particular diet for the disorder, a Mediterranean diet is thought to be potentially very beneficial. This offers high amount of antioxidants that can help to fight inflammation. Examples of helpful foods are fresh fruits and vegetables, herbs, fish, olive oil, nuts, and whole grains. A diet free of gluten can also improve symptoms.

Processed foods, fried foods, and dairy products are some of the things you need to avoid or reduce when it comes to arthritis. Evidence suggests you may benefit by reducing consumption of vegetables belonging to the nightshade family due to the presence of a chemical known as solanine. Examples of these include tomatoes, chili peppers, and goji berries.

Physical activity can as well help in combating symptoms of arthritis. This might sound counterintuitive to some, but exercise can enhance flexibility. A tip here is to ensure you do not overexert yourself or put too much pressure on the affected joint. Swimming is a better option than walking or running when the disorder affects joints in the lower part of the body. Leg raises, stretches, finger or thumb bends, and neck rotation are some exercises to consider, depending on affected joints.

Maintaining a healthy bodyweight is crucial to the control of arthritis. This makes a healthy diet and regular exercise more advisable. Quality sleep can also help to keep symptoms from getting worse.

Realizing arthritis has no known cure may be rather scary. But you can control the associated pain and other symptoms with one or more of the available treatment options. How successful you will be doing this will depend, partly, on how early you commence treatment.

In addition to the treatments discussed above, there are still others, including chiropractic care and alternative medicine options such as low level laser therapy and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Your doctor should be able to guide you appropriately on what will work best for you.



Arthritis: Causes, types, and treatments (

Arthritis - Wikipedia (

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