Arthritis is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis caused by the wearing down of the cartilage that protects the bones of a joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition caused by an inflammation in the lining of the joints. Both forms of arthritis cause pain and swelling and may result in loss of movement in the affected joints. The progression of arthritis typically occurs over time and most frequently in older individuals; however, it can affect people of any age, such as in athletes or younger individuals from overuse or prior injury.
In addition to rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, there are other types of arthritis. For example, gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis caused by a build-up of uric acid within the body, which can cause painful, swollen, red and inflamed joints. Psoriatic arthritis affects people who have psoriasis, a skin condition characterized by red and scaly patches of skin. Psoriatic arthritis is considered an autoimmune disorder and causes joint inflammation, stiffness and pain. Regardless of the type of arthritis, they all have a symptom in common – PAIN!
What are the symptoms associated with arthritis?
The most common symptoms associated with arthritis include pain, swelling and stiffness of the affected joint. Patients will often complain of stiffness when they first start walking, also known as “start-up pain” or “gel phenomenon.” These symptoms can often come and go, and some people associate symptoms with changing weather patterns. Pain usually progresses and often affects individuals at night. Depending on the type of arthritis, some patients may also experience fevers, hypersensitivity to the skin, fatigue or other systemic symptoms.
Diagnosis of Arthritis
Arthritis is diagnosed through a physical examination, diagnostic tests and imaging exams to evaluate the affected areas of the body. Diagnostic tests may include:
- MRI scans
- Joint fluid testing
- Blood tests
An arthroscopic procedure (surgery to look in the joint with a camera) can also be performed to assess the amount of damage within the joints.
Treatment for Arthritis
Treatment for arthritis varies based on the type of arthritis and specific symptoms. Treatment may include medication to control pain, minimize inflammation and slow the progression of joint damage. Exercise and physical therapy may also be effective at keeping joints flexible. Various types of injections are also very common in the treatment of all types of arthritis, including corticosteroid injections and hyaluronic acid injection.
In addition to medical treatment, some forms of arthritis may respond to lifestyle changes such as losing weight, eating a healthy diet and exercise. Heat and cold therapy may also relieve pain and swelling in joints and assistive devices, such as canes or walkers, may assist individuals with mobility. In severe cases of arthritis that are refractory to conservative management, surgery may be offered to repair or replace affected joints.
What are the most common types of arthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It develops as the cartilage protecting the bones of a joint wears down over time. It occurs more frequently in older individuals; however, it can develop in athletes or younger people from overuse of a joint or after an injury. It commonly affects the hips, knees, shoulders, fingers, and lower back, and is often treated with medication, injections, and various types of lifestyle modifications.
Rheumatoid arthritis is considered an autoimmune disorder caused by the body attacking its own healthy tissue. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the lining of the joints (i.e., the cartilage). In addition to joint pain and inflammation, it sometimes affects other organs of the body, including the skin, eyes, heart, lungs and blood vessels. Rheumatoid arthritis is more common in women than men and it usually manifests in individuals over the age of 40.
Gout is a form of arthritis that causes painful, swollen, red and inflamed joints. Gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid within the body that forms crystals within the joints and surrounding tissues. This build-up of crystals causes acute pain and swelling that commonly affects the joint of the big toe, but can also occur in the feet, ankle, knees and hands. The symptoms of gout often appear suddenly and without warning, often in the middle of the night. Gout can often be treated with medication and diet modification, but sometimes can require joint replacement surgery if damage becomes chronic and severe.
Psoriatic Arthritis is a type of arthritis that affects people who have psoriasis, a skin condition characterized by red and scaly patches of skin. Psoriatic arthritis is considered an autoimmune disorder and causes joint inflammation, stiffness and pain that may affect the fingers, toes, feet and lower back.
Post-traumatic Arthritis is a type of arthritis that develops secondary to a prior injury or trauma. It is often seen in individuals who have had prior fractures or surgery to their joints. Post-traumatic arthritis is commonly diagnosed in younger individuals, seen in those who have had repetitive injuries, such as athletes.