WHAT IS ARTHRITIS

Arthritis is very common but is not well understood. Arthritis is not a single disease, it is an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. In total, there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. People of all ages, sexes and races can and do have arthritis, and it is the leading cause of disability in America. More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis. It is most common among women and occurs more frequently as people get older. Common symptoms include pain, swelling, reduced range of motion, and stiffness. While there is no cure, medications, physical therapy, or sometimes surgery helps reduce symptoms and improve quality of life.

Learn more by visiting the Arthritis Foundation

Types of Arthritis

There are currently over one hundred different types of Arthritis identified. The most common types include osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriatic arthritis (PsA), fibromyalgia and gout. All of them cause pain in different ways.

  • Osteoarthritis: sometimes called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common chronic condition of the joints. It occurs when the cartilage or cushion between joints breaks down leading to pain, stiffness, and swelling.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: the most common type of autoimmune arthritis. It is triggered by a faulty immune system and affects the wrist and small joints of the hand, including the knuckles and the middle joints of the fingers. 
  • Psoriatic arthritis: a chronic form of arthritis. In some people, it is mild, with just occasional flare ups. In other people, it is continuous and can cause joint damage if it is not treated. Early diagnosis is important to avoid damage to joints. Psoriatic arthritis typically occurs in people with skin psoriasis, but it can occur in people without skin psoriasis, particularly in those who have relatives with psoriasis
  • Fibromyalgia: a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress. In other cases, symptoms gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event. Women are much more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men. Many people who have fibromyalgia also have tension headaches, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression.
  • Gout: characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain, redness and tenderness in joints, often the joint at the base of the big toe. Gout is a complex form of arthritis that can affect anyone. Men are more likely to get gout, but women become increasingly susceptible to gout after menopause.

Learn more at the Arthritis Foundation

    ARTHRITIS SYMPTOMS

    Due to the large number of types of Arthritis, symptoms vary from person to person. While early Arthritis symptoms can be mimicked by other diseases, here are 15 common early arthritis symptoms:

    • Fatigue
    • Joint pain
    • Joint tenderness
    • Joint swelling
    • Joint redness
    • Joint warmth
    • Joint stiffness
    • Loss of joint range of motion
    • Many joints affected (polyarthritis)
    • Limping
    • Joint deformity
    • Both sides of the body affected (symmetric)
    • Loss of joint function
    • Anemia
    • Fever

    Learn more at the Arthritis Foundation

    DIAGNOSIS

    A primary care physician may suspect arthritis based in part on a person's signs and symptoms. If so, the patient will be referred to a rheumatologist. No single test can confirm arthritis. To make a proper diagnosis, the rheumatologist will ask questions about personal and family medical history, perform a physical exam and order diagnostic tests. These tests may include:

    • Medical History
    • Physical Exam
    • Blood Tests
    • Inflammation (elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein)
    • Antibodies (rheumatoid factor)
    • Imaging (x-ray)

    Learn more at the Arthritis Foundation

    TREATMENT & MEDICATIONS

    There is no FDA recognized cure for any type of arthritis. Each person reacts differently to the various types of arthritis. Some common treatments to help manage symptoms include medications, surgery, and natural remedies.

    Medications

    • Analgesics: drugs designed specifically to relieve pain. There are several types of analgesics: acetaminophen (Tylenol), which is available without a prescription, and a variety of opioid analgesics, which are available only with a prescription.
    • Biologics: also referred to as biologic response modifiers, are medications genetically engineered from a living organism, such as a virus, gene or protein, to simulate the body’s natural response to infection and disease.
    • Corticosteroids: sometimes called glucocor­ticoids, are medications that mimic the effects of the hormone cortisol, which is produced naturally by the adrenal glands.
    • DMARDs: disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs slow or stop the inflammatory process that can damage the joints and internal organs.
    • NSAIDs: used to relieve pain and inflammation associated with arthritis and related conditions. They are also have many uses outside of arthritis treatment, such as lowering fevers, easing tooth aches, and relieving muscle aches from strenuous physical activity or the flu.

    Surgery

    Because arthritis affects different parts of the body, multiple surgeries exist to combat specific symptoms. Some of the more common surgeries include: 

    • Arthroscopy: surgeons make small incisions with specialized instruments and a tiny camera to fix tears in soft tissues around the knee, hip, shoulder and other joints; repair damaged cartilage; and remove broken, free-floating cartilage pieces.
    • Joint Resurfacingsurgeons replace the damaged area with an implant or cap it with a metal, dome-shaped prosthesis.
    • Osteotomy: involves cutting and removing bone or adding a wedge of bone near a damaged joint. In the knee, for example, an osteotomy shifts weight from an area damaged by arthritis to an undamaged area. In the hip it is often used to correct misalignment (hip dysplasia) that occurs early in life.
    • Synovectomysurgeons remove most or all of the affected synovium, either in a traditional, open surgery or by using arthroscopy.
    • Arthrodesis (fusion): surgeons use pins, plates, rods or other hardware to join two or more bones in the ankles, wrists, thumbs, fingers or spine, making one continuous joint. Over time the bones grow together and lock the joint in place.  
    • Total Joint Replacement: the damaged joint is replaced with an implant that mimics the motion the natural joint and is made from combinations of metal, plastic and/or ceramic components.

    Learn more at the Arthritis Foundation.

    ARTHRITIS SUPPORT

    The Arthritis Foundation is the Champion of arthritis. Leading the fight for the arthritis community, the Arthritis Foundation helps conquer everyday battles through life-changing information and resources, access to optimal care, advancements in science and community connections. Their goal is to chart a winning course, guiding families in developing personalized plans for living a full life – and making each day another stride towards a cure. They also publish Arthritis Today, the award-winning magazine that reaches 4.2 million readers.