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In the United States, more than 50 million people suffer from arthritis, making it the number one cause of disability. Discover the different arthritis types as well as how you can relieve symptoms.
Arthritis is a general term used to describe joint pain or swelling. With more than 100 types, the most common forms are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Although arthritis can affect anyone, it occurs more often in women.
Causes and Risk Factors of Arthritis
The causes of arthritis can vary, and in most cases are still not widely known. Two causes associated with arthritis include the following:
- Genetics: Certain types of arthritis are influenced by a gene called human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class II genotypes, which can run in families.
- Lifestyle: If you are an athlete or have a job that involves repetitive motion, your joints may begin to wear down, causing arthritis.
Risk factors for arthritis are more straightforward. Knowing what they are can help you determine if you are at an increased risk for developing arthritis.
Risk factors for arthritis include the following:
- Age: Your risk for arthritis increases as you age.
- Obesity: Extra weight puts pressure on the joints, especially the hips and knees.
- Joint injury or overuse: Injuries or repetitive bending of the knee joint may make osteoarthritis more likely.
- Gender: Most often, arthritis is more common in women. There are certain kinds of arthritis, such as gout, that occur more often in men.
Symptoms of Arthritis
Arthritis presents with many different symptoms, but some symptoms are more common than others. Symptoms include the following:
- Difficulty moving around
- Joint pain, swelling, or stiffness
- Redness or rash
Types of Arthritis
Common types of arthritis include the following:
- Gout: Gout is characterized by severe pain, often coming in “attacks” and then subsiding. It usually occurs in the big toe and is caused by a buildup of urate crystals. These crystals are formed by uric acid, which is created by the body when it breaks down foods like seafood and red meat.
- Osteoarthritis: The most common form of arthritis, this usually occurs in the hands, hips, and knees. When someone has osteoarthritis, the cartilage in their joints has begun to wear down.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This type is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the immune system attacks healthy cells. It affects the lining of the joints, resulting in swelling and pain.
Diagnosis of Arthritis
To diagnose arthritis, your physician may recommend the following:
- Order labs: Your doctor may wish to check your blood, urine, or joint fluid to determine if you have arthritis or if your arthritis has worsened.
- Order imaging: X-rays can reveal bone damage and cartilage loss, which may indicate that you have certain types of arthritis. An MRI may be ordered for a more detailed image of the cartilage and other soft tissues.
- Perform a physical exam: Your doctor will check your joints for swelling or redness. You will also be asked to show your doctor how well you can move your joints.
- Take a patient history: Patient history includes a summary of your medical history and questions about your lifestyle. Because certain forms of arthritis are genetic, you will likely need to provide a family history.
Treatment of Arthritis
Although arthritis doesn’t have a cure, treatment can help manage your pain and joint function. Treatment options range from medication to surgery, so you and your doctor can decide the best option for your arthritis type and level of discomfort.
The first step in treating your arthritis may be one of the following:
- Medicine: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, reduce pain and inflammation.
- Orthopedic therapy: Exercise and keeping the joints moving is key to arthritis treatment. A physical therapist evaluates and develops a program tailored to you.
Joint replacement surgery
If these therapies don’t improve your pain or discomfort, surgery may be the best option.
In the case of joint replacement, the surgeon will remove the damaged or diseased joint and replace it with a plastic, ceramic, or metal one. With this new joint, patients can expect less pain, improved movement, and an overall better working joint.