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What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition characterized by inflammation of a joint(s) causing pain, swelling and stiffness. There are many kinds of arthritis. Each type of arthritis has different symptoms and treatments. Most types of arthritis are chronic. Chronic arthritis occurs over a long period of time.

Arthritis can attack joints in almost any part of the body. Some forms of arthritis cause changes you can see and feel—swelling, warmth, and redness in your joints. In some forms of arthritis, the pain and swelling last only a short time, but are very bad. Other types of arthritis cause less troublesome symptoms, but still slowly damage your joints.

Common Kinds of Arthritis

Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in the United States. Millions of adults and half of all people age 65 and older are troubled by this disease. Older people most often have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and/or gout.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in older people. Osteoarthritis starts when cartilage begins to become ragged and wears away. Cartilage is the tissue that pads bones in a joint. In severe cases of osteoarthritis, all of the cartilage in a joint wears away, leaving bones that rub against each other. You are most likely to have osteoarthritis in your hands, neck, lower back, or the large weight-bearing joints of your body, such as knees and hips.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Symptoms of osteoarthritis can range from stiffness and mild pain that comes and goes with activities like walking, bending, or stooping to severe joint pain that keeps on even when you rest or try to sleep. Sometimes osteoarthritis causes your joints to feel stiff when you haven’t moved them in a while, like after riding in the car. But the stiffness goes away when you move the joint. In time, osteoarthritis can also cause problems moving joints and sometimes disability if your back, knees, or hips are affected.

What causes Osteoarthritis?

Growing older is what most often puts you at risk for osteoarthritis. Scientists also believe the cause depends on which part of the body is involved. For example, osteoarthritis in the hands or hips may run in families. Osteoarthritis in the knees can be linked with being overweight. Injuries or overuse may cause osteoarthritis in joints such as knees, hips, or hands.

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that occurs when your body attacks the lining of a joint just as it would if it were trying to protect you from injury or disease. For example, if you had a splinter in your finger, the finger would become inflamed—painful, red, and swollen. Rheumatoid arthritis leads to inflammation in your joints. This inflammation causes pain, swelling, and stiffness that lasts for hours. Rheumatoid arthritis can occur in many different joints at the same time. You might not even be able to move the joint. People with rheumatoid arthritis often don’t feel well. They may be tired or run a fever. People of any age can develop rheumatoid arthritis, and it is more common in women.

Rheumatoid arthritis can attack almost any joint in the body, including the joints in the fingers, wrists, shoulders, elbows, hips, knees, ankles, feet, and neck. If you have rheumatoid arthritis in a joint on one side of the body, the same joint on the other side of your body will probably have rheumatoid arthritis also. Rheumatoid arthritis not only destroys joints. It can also attack organs such as the heart, muscles, blood vessels, nervous system, and eyes.

Gout is one of the most painful forms of arthritis. Gout begins when crystals of uric acid form in the connective tissue and/or joint spaces. These deposits lead to swelling, redness, heat, pain, and stiffness in the joint. Gout attacks often follow eating foods like shellfish, liver, dried beans, peas, anchovies, or gravy. Using alcohol, being overweight, and certain medications may also make gout worse. In older people, some blood pressure medicines can also increase your chance of a gout attack.

Gout is most often a problem in the big toe, but it can affect other joints, including your ankle, elbow, knee, wrist, hand, or other toes. Swelling may cause the skin to pull tightly around the joint and make the area red or purple and very tender. Your doctor might suggest blood tests and x-rays. He or she might also take a sample of fluid from your joint while you are having an attack.

Other forms of arthritis include psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis, and arthritis in the temporomandibular joint.

General Symptoms of Arthritis

Some of the most common symptoms of arthritis are:

  • Lasting joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Tenderness or pain when touching a joint
  • Problems using or moving a joint normally
  • Warmth and redness in a joint.

If any one of these symptoms lasts longer than 2 weeks, see your regular doctor or a rheumatologist. If you have a fever, feel physically ill, suddenly have a swollen joint, or have problems using your joint, see your doctor immediately.

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