Arthritis is a blanket term for the hundreds of different conditions that make up joint pain or joint disease. Arthritis is a very common condition, with more than 50 million American adults and 300,000 children developing some sort of the condition in their lifetimes. People of all ages, sexes and races can develop arthritis, but it is most common in older women.
Arthritis is most commonly a specific condition where the joints of the body become inflamed. Joints may swell, be painful or stiff, and patients may experience decreased range of motion in the affected joints. Some arthritis conditions may be mild, and some may be extremely severe, causing an inability to perform daily activities or do simple things like walk and climb stairs. Long-term arthritis sufferers can develop permanent joint damage.
Arthritis is extremely common—about 1 in 4 American adults have it. While there are some risk factors you cannot control, like your age or gender, some risk factors are lifestyle-related and it’s important to do what you can do mitigate the risk of developing the condition. Those individuals who are at a healthy weight, remain physically active, avoid smoking and protect their joints while exercising are at the least risk for developing arthritis. There are over a hundred different named diseases and conditions that fall under the arthritis umbrella, but some types of arthritis are more common than others.
Osteoarthritis is a type of degenerative arthritis where the cartilage (the cushion on the end of bones) wears away and bone rubs against bone. It is also sometimes called degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis. It is the most common type of arthritis and affects 27 million Americans.
When cartilage breaks down during osteoarthritis, bones rub against one another constantly and may develop spurs. Bits of bone may chip off and float around in the joint. This can lead to permanent joint damage and extreme pain. Symptoms of degenerative arthritis can be:
• Limited range of motion in the joints that goes away after moving the joint
• Clicking or cracking sound when moving the joint
• Mild swelling around the joint
• Pain that is worse after activity or at the end of the day
Rheumatoid arthritis is actually an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints. This causes the joints to become inflamed and causes the joint tissue to thicken up, resulting in swelling and pain around the joints. It can eventually damage cartilage, tissue and the joints themselves. Eventually joints can become so unstable and damaged that they lose mobility. Rheumatoid most commonly affects the hands, feet, wrists, elbows knees and ankles. It’s also considered a symmetrical condition, meaning that if one hand is affected then the other hand will be as well. Rheumatoid arthritis can be identified by:
• Morning stiffness in the joints for 30 minutes or longer
• Joint pain for six weeks or longer
• Small joints are affected
• Same joints on both sides of the body are affected
• More than one type of joint is affected
• Loss of appetite
• Low-grade fever
Juvenile arthritis is another blanket term used to describe many inflammatory conditions in children. Juvenile arthritis affects almost 300,000 children in the United States annually. Symptoms are usually the same as most other arthritis conditions, but different types of juvenile arthritis can involve other areas of the body that are still developing in children:
• Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is the most common type of childhood arthritis.
• Juvenile dermatomyositis causes muscle weakness and skin rash
• Juvenile lupus can affect the joints, skin, and kidneys
• Juvenile scleroderma can cause the skin to tighten and harden
• Kawasaki disease can cause blood vessel inflammation that can lead to heart complications
• Fibromyalgia can cause chronic pain and stiffness
Fibromyalgia is a type of arthritis condition that can cause much more than joint pain. In addition to chronic pain, fibromyalgia can cause fatigue, memory problems and mood changes. It is a series of symptoms that can have a serious effect on quality of life, but does not lead to joint or muscle damage. Because the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, doctors are unsure about what lifestyle choices or traumas lead to the disease. People who have fibromyalgia also typically have:
• Sleep disorders or extreme fatigue
• Restless leg syndrome
• Mood and concentration problems like depression, anxiety or a short attention span
• Headaches like tension headaches and migraines
• Widespread pain throughout the body
Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis that develops in people who have high levels of acid in their blood. This acid can form crystal-like substances in the joints and cause sudden and severe episodes of pain.
Because gout comes on so suddenly, it is a condition that is underlying in the body but symptoms are triggered by a traumatic event like a “gout attack.” These attacks jostle the acidic crystals that have been building in the body and cause sudden and intense pain in the body for 8 to 12 hours.
These crystals can build up in the joints because of a joint injury, infection, taking certain drugs, going on crash diets, dehydration and drinking too much alcohol.
Another chronic autoimmune condition, lupus is a disease for which there is no cure and no known cause. It affects more than just the joints and bones—it can affect the kidneys, skin, blood and brain. Lupus affects everyone differently, but like many autoimmune diseases, lupus has the following symptoms:
• Joint pain
• Hair loss
• Sensitivity to light
• Trouble breathing
• Kidney issues
• Mouth sores
• Blood disorders
Because lupus symptoms may also be symptoms of other conditions, diagnosing lupus can be a long and drawn-out process and it can be difficult for doctors to make a diagnosis. If you think you have lupus, talk to your doctor right away to get the necessary tests. Treatments are specific to each patient, and may include anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, antirheumatic drugs or immunosuppression.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.