What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a collection of conditions that can cause painful joint inflammation and can interfere with daily life. Read this to learn the causes and symptoms, as well as the treatments that can bring relief to your pain, and help you get back on track.

10 minute read

Last Updated July 1, 2020

Arthritis: Symptoms, Treatments, and Causes - Joint Disorders - 1MD

Arthritis is a collection of conditions that causes inflammation of the joints and can affect multiple joints. The symptoms can appear suddenly or develop over time.

Arthritis is commonly seen in adults over the age of 65, but it can also occur in younger adults, teenagers, and even children. The condition is also more common among women and individuals who are overweight

What Causes Arthritis?

Arthritis is caused when the cartilage in your joints breaks down. This flexible connective tissue protects your joints as it absorbs shock during any movements. Too much pressure or stress wears the cartilage down, leading to inflammation and arthritis.

Because there are different types of arthritis, the causes can vary depending on the type you have. The more common types are osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

OA: Infections or injuries can cause the cartilage to break down, which causes this type of arthritis.

RA: This is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system mistakenly attacks the synovial fluid in your joints, removing nourishment and lubrication. As a result, joints get inflamed, and cartilage wears down.

Arthritis Symptoms

The most commonly identified symptoms of arthritis include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness of joints and surrounding areas. Some individuals may also notice redness around the affected joint, and most of the time, stiffness is worse in the morning. In addition to these symptoms, you may also notice:

♦ Decreased range of motions
♦ Reduces flexibility
♦ Fatigue
♦ Warmth around the joint
♦ Possible joint deformity

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Arthritis Diagnosis

Recognizing the symptoms helps you identify a potential problem so you can seek counsel with your doctor. They typically need to perform a physical exam to determine the range of motion, and they will also check for fluids around the joint.

In some cases, your regular doctor may need to refer you to a specialist. Doctors can use X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans to look at joint images to rule out other possible causes for your joint pain.

Treatment for Arthritis

Your doctor’s goal will be to improve joint function, and there a number of treatment options to try. In some cases, multiple options can be combined.

You may be prescribed medications such as analgesics (hydrocodone) for pain management or NSAIDs (ibuprofen) to reduce inflammation. You may also try immunosuppressant drugs like cortisone to reduce inflammation or menthol to block pain signals.

You should also seek physical therapy if your doctor advises you to do so. These exercises are under the supervision of a trained therapist and are designed to strengthen muscles so they can better support your joints.

It is also recommended to lose any excess weight, as this significantly reduces the pressure and stress on your joints and can relieve inflammation as well as improve mobility.

Regular light exercise like swimming is great for improving joint health and for losing weight. When it comes to exercise, you need to be careful not to overdo it and cause more damage. Start with gentle walking, swimming, aquatic exercise, or cycling, to get your joints moving, strengthened, and back to mobility.

The Arthritis Diet

Since inflammation is the common denominator in all types of arthritis, the key to controlling this is reducing inflammatory foods from your diet.

Foods Rich in Omega-3 can be Natural Anti Inflammatory

The worst culprits for causing inflammation include sugar, trans fats, vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, processed meats, and excessive alcohol. Cutting these can reduce inflammation and relieve arthritis symptoms naturally. You can also work to reduce inflammation by eating more anti-inflammatory foods such as:

♦ Berries
♦ Green tea
♦ Salmon (other omega-3 fatty acid foods)
♦ Nuts
♦ Broccoli
♦ Garlic
♦ Ginger
♦ Whole grains
♦ Avocado
♦ Spinach
♦ Tomatoes

Natural Treatments for Arthritis

Medications are the typical treatment option, but there are also natural treatment options available too. Diet plays an important role in reducing inflammation, but you can also reduce inflammation and pain using:

Hot/cold therapy: Alternating hot and cold therapies can help relieve swelling and pain in affected joints

Acupuncture: This ancient Chinese treatment helps to reroute energies in the body and has proven effective at reducing arthritis pain.

Massage: Regular massage help to reduce pain and stiffness, and it encourages mobility as well as a better range of motion.

Herbal supplements: Herbs that help to reduce inflammation and relieve pain include turmeric, ginkgo, Boswellia, and bromelain.

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Arthritis Surgery

In extreme circumstances, if too much joint damage has been done, surgery can be an option for arthritis patients. Surgery can be done to replace your joint with an artificial version, and this is typically only done for hips and knees.

If you have arthritis in your hands that is too severe and treatments are not helping, then your doctor can perform a joint fusion where the ends of your bones become locked together, and they heal as one. 

What Are the Variations of Arthritis?

Arthritis is a collective name given to include over 100 types of joint pain. Most have common symptoms, but some have special symptoms that make them easier to identify.
The most common variations of arthritis are:

Osteoarthritis: this occurs when your joints become overused or stressed as a result of injury or being overweight

Rheumatoid arthritis: This autoimmune disease causes severe joint damage and can start gradually or suddenly. It is thought to be triggered by confused immune responses attacking joints in error.

Psoriatic arthritis: This is marked by both inflammation of the skin and joints. Patchy, red skin often appears around affected joints.

Gout: This type occurs as a result of uric acid buildup that forms crystals in the joints causing pain.

Arthritis Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently reports the following statistics for arthritis:

♦ An estimated 54 million American adults have some form of arthritis
♦ People over the age of 65 have a significantly higher risk for developing arthritis, with 49.6 percent currently diagnosed.
♦ 26 percent of women are diagnosed with arthritis as compared to 19 percent of men.
♦ Close to 24 percent of overweight U.S adults and 31 percent of obese U.S adults have been diagnosed with arthritis.
♦ Arthritis is the leading cause of disability among American adults.
♦ The incidence rate of arthritis is predicted to increase as the population continues to grow in future years.

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Arthritis and Disability

Arthritis is a painful condition and can interfere with daily function as well as work. This makes it a potential cause of disability.

According to the CDC, more than 50 million Americans have arthritis, and in most cases, lifestyle and activities are significantly reduced. If left untreated, arthritis can be debilitating, so it is important to identify it early and seek treatment.

Juvenile Arthritis

While not as common, arthritis can develop in children and teenagers. Termed juvenile arthritis, is an autoimmune disease acting similar to RA. Symptoms include stiffness, pain, swelling, persistent fever, weight loss, fatigue, irritability, and eye redness or pain. The condition is diagnosed using blood tests and x-rays, mainly to exclude other possible causes.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

There is no true cure for arthritis, but early diagnosis and the right treatment can allow you to live more comfortably with the condition. Medical and natural treatments both work to reduce the severity of symptoms so you can enhance mobility and reduce pain.

It is also advised to make certain lifestyle changes to help ease symptoms, and your doctor can best advise these based on your current health situation.

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