Arthritis, characterized by inflammation of the joints, is a disease that causes pain, stiffness, swelling and limited range of motion in any joint of the body. Anyone — including children — can be affected by arthritis, but the condition usually affects older people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30% of people between the ages of 45 and 64, and almost half of those ages 65 and older, have arthritis.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis, but the most common, by far, is osteoarthritis. Also known as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is diagnosed when the cartilage — the cushiony cells that line the joints and protect the bones — breaks down. As a result, the bones can rub together, leading to damage that can reduce function and cause disability. The hips, knees and hands are most commonly affected by osteoarthritis.
Other types of arthritis include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis — a progressive and debilitating autoimmune disorder that can impact multiple joints at one time
- Psoriatic arthritis — a type of arthritis that affects people with psoriasis
- Gout inflammatory arthritis that develops because of too much uric acid
- Lupus — an autoimmune disease that causes pain and inflammation in the joints, internal organs and skin
Risk Factors for Arthritis
Your risk for osteoarthritis increases as you age, and women are at a higher risk than men for the condition. Repetitive joint stress from work or sports, along with obesity, also increase the risk for osteoarthritis.
Some bacterial and viral infections can cause joints to develop arthritis, and cigarette smoking can contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. Genetics also play a role in some forms of arthritis.
Symptoms of Arthritis
The No. 1 symptom of arthritis is joint pain, but arthritis can include other symptoms such as:
- Limited range of motion
Diagnosis of Arthritis
Arthritis can often be diagnosed based on a symptoms review, but your physician may want you to get an imaging study — such as a CT, MRI, ultrasound or X-ray — to see the extent of the damage to your joints and track its progression. Blood work can also help determine the presence of inflammation.
Treatment for Arthritis
The frontline treatment for arthritis is medication. Over-the-counter pain relievers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, along with pain-reliever creams, may help. Your healthcare provider may also recommend prescription medications to relieve inflammation. Patients with autoimmune-related arthritis may need prescription immunosuppressants. When joint pain is severe, physical therapy and/or joint replacement surgery may be recommended.
You can also do the following to manage arthritis:
- Talk to your doctor about what types of exercises can help.
- Lose weight
- Quit smoking
- You may want to install grab bars in the bathroom to help you get in and out of the tub, and you might need to wear a brace or splint to support the infected joint. A cane or walker can help ease pain in your joints, too.