Arthritis health facts
- Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints, characterized by joint pain and stiffness that worsens with age.
- Arthritis, while more common in women, impacts more than 54 million adults and 300,000 children in the United States alone.
- There are many types of arthritis, but the two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis affects the cartilage, the firm connective tissue that protects the bones from rubbing against each other at the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes the lining of the joints to become inflamed.
- There are many treatment options including medication, nonsurgical treatments (like injections), therapy and surgery. While this condition cannot be cured or reversed, these treatments can help slow the progression, reduce inflammation and improve the quality of life.
What is arthritis?
Many people use the term arthritis to describe any type of joint pain or joint disease, but it is not a single disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. The most common types are degenerative, such as osteoarthritis, and inflammatory, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Smaller joints, such as in the hands and feet, are affected most often. But the shoulders, hips and knees can also be affected.
There are four main types of arthritis.
Degenerative arthritis (most common: osteoarthritis)
Degenerative arthritis affects the cartilage, which is the white cushion at the ends of the bones. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of degenerative arthritis. As the cartilage wears away, the bone rubs against bone, which causes pain, stiffness, swelling and reduced range of motion. Over time, the joints can weaken and the pain may become chronic or regular.
Mild or moderate osteoarthritis symptoms can be managed with:
- Relative rest.
- Hot and cold therapy.
- Regular activity and strength training.
- Keeping a healthy weight.
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medicine.
- Guided steroid and/or joint lubrication injections.
- Orthobiologics (PRP and stem cells).
When the immune system is working properly, it uses inflammation as a way to get rid of an infection. Sometimes the immune system can cause inflammation to occur in a healthy part of the body, such as the joints. When the immune system attacks healthy areas of the body, this is called an autoimmune disease.
Rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are both types of inflammatory arthritis. When the arthritis is inflammatory, early diagnosis and regular treatment greatly slow and prevent joint damage.
Metabolic arthritis (gout)
Uric acid buildup is another cause of arthritis, specifically gout. Uric acid is made as the body breaks down food. Some people naturally produce more uric acid than is needed, or the body cannot get rid of it quickly enough.
When the uric acid builds up, it can form needle-like crystals in the joint, causing sharp pain called a gout attack. Gout can be episodic, with long periods of remission. But if uric acid levels are not reduced, either by diet changes or medication, it can cause ongoing pain.
Other types of arthritis can be triggered by a virus or fungus that enters the joint. These can include foodborne viruses like salmonella and sexually transmitted viruses like chlamydia or a blood to blood infection such as hepatitis C. Usually, early treatment with antibiotics can clear the joint infection and prevent long-term damage.
Causes of arthritis
Arthritis affects people of all sexes, ages and ethnicities. But there are some factors that may cause a person to be more likely to develop the disease.
- Age – the risk of developing the condition increases as a person gets older.
- Family history – some types of arthritis run in families. Certain genes can also make a person more susceptible to environmental triggers.
- Gender – Most types of arthritis affect more women than men, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showing that 26 percent of women report having arthritis and 19 percent of men report it. However, men are more likely to get gout.
- Previous joint injury – people who injure their joints, such as while playing sports, are more likely to develop arthritis later in life.
- Being overweight – people who carry excess weight put extra stress on their joints, particularly the knees, hips and spine, which can put them at higher risk for developing the condition.
- Environmental triggers – smoking, stress, alcohol and certain types of medication can exacerbate certain types of arthritis.
Symptoms of arthritis
Joint pain, inflammation, stiffness and loss of range of motion that goes away once movement takes place are the most common symptoms of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause inflammation of the eyes, blood vessels and lungs.
Other signs of arthritis can include, fatigue, weight loss, low grade fever and anemia, which is a shortage of red blood cells.
Arthritis can often be characterized by periods of episodic symptoms, called flares, and long periods of no symptoms, called remission. Seeing a healthcare provider regularly, along with treatments to manage symptoms, can help lengthen periods of remission.
Arthritis symptoms are often symmetrical, meaning that if joints in one hand are affected by arthritis, the joints in the other hand will most likely have symptoms as well.
HealthFit’s approach to arthritis treatment
The goal of HealthFit providers is to properly diagnose the type of arthritis and develop an appropriate treatment plan for each patient as early as possible to minimize joint pain, erosion and other symptoms.
Depending on the type and severity of a patient’s arthritis, our providers use exercise and weight management, nonsurgical treatments and injections, along with medications and therapy to prevent and manage symptoms.