Definition of Arthritis
The word arthritis actually means joint inflammation, but the term has acquired a wider meaning. In public health, arthritis is used as a shorthand term for arthritis and other rheumatic conditions—a label for the more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues which surround joints and other connective tissue.
The pattern, severity, and location of symptoms can vary depending on the specific form of the disease. Typically, rheumatic conditions are characterized by pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints.
The symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Certain rheumatic conditions can also involve the immune system and various internal organs of the body.
Certain factors are associated with a greater risk of arthritis. Some of these risk factors are modifiable while others are not.
Non-modifiable risk factors
- Age: The risk of developing most types of arthritis increases with age.
- Gender: Most types of arthritis are more common in women; 60% of the people with arthritis are women. Gout is more common in men.
- Genetic: Specific genes are associated with a higher risk of certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), and ankylosing spondylitis.
Modifiable risk factors
- Overweight and Obesity: Excess weight can contribute to both the onset and progression of knee osteoarthritis.
- Joint Injuries: Damage to a joint can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in that joint.
- Infection: Many microbial agents can infect joints and potentially cause the development of specific forms of arthritis.
- Occupation: Certain occupations involving repetitive knee bending and squatting are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.
Causes of Arthritis
Elevated uric acid levels cause gout, and specific infections can cause certain forms of arthritis. For many forms of arthritis, the cause is unknown. Scientists are studying the role of factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environment in the various types of arthritis
The most common form of arthritis in the Unites States is osteoarthritis followed by gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
The pattern and location of symptoms can vary depending on the type of arthritis. Generally, people with arthritis feel pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints. The onset of arthritis symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Arthritis is most often a chronic disease, so symptoms may come and go, or persist over time.
Action Plan if You Suspect Arthritis
If you have pain, stiffness, or swelling in or around one or more of your joints, talk to your doctor. It is important to keep in mind that there are many forms of arthritis, and a specific diagnosis of the type you have may help to direct the proper treatment. The earlier you understand your arthritis, the earlier you can start managing your disease and making healthy lifestyle changes to help your arthritis.
Depending on the form of arthritis, there are steps that can be taken to reduce your risk of arthritis. Maintaining an appropriate body weight has been shown to decrease the risk of developing osteoarthritis and gout. Protecting your joints from injuries or overuse can reduce the risk of osteoarthritis.
Diagnosing arthritis often requires a detailed medical history of current and past symptoms, physical examination, x-rays, and blood work. It is possible to have more than one form of arthritis at the same time.
Treatment for Arthritis
The focus of treatment for arthritis is to control pain, minimize joint damage, and improve or maintain function and quality of life. In inflammatory types of arthritis, it is also important to control inflammation. According to the American College of Rheumatology, the treatment of arthritis might involve the following:
- Nonpharmacologic therapies.
- Physical or occupational therapy.
- Splints or joint assistive aids.
- Patient education and support.
- Weight loss.
In our next article we will discuss the Management of arthritis..
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