What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a chronic disease that most often affects areas of the body that are in or around joints. A joint is the area where bones meet: an example of this would be the knee. Bones are covered at their ends by a substance known as cartilage, and it is this cartilage that keeps the bones from rubbing directly against one another. The entire joint is enclosed by the synovium, a tissue that produces the synovial fluid that keeps the joint lubricated. Muscles and tendons act to support the joint and also to make it move. When a part of the joint is not working correctly it can cause the joint to change shape or alignment, which can be very painful.

Arthritis is a disease that affects one in every seven people and can occur at any age. . It is a disease that can severely limit the ability to move. It can have a slow onset, or come on quickly.  Once it starts, it usually lasts your entire life. There are many ways that its symptoms can be reduced so that people who have it can remain active.

Arthritis is often characterized by pain, stiffness, swelling, and problems with movement in one or more joints. Any of these symptoms that persist for 10 days or more should be discussed with your doctor. It is important to remember that symptoms may be constant or they may come and go. Symptoms can occur during physical activity or they can occur while at rest.

Because there are so many different types of arthritis, it is important for your doctor to perform a complete history and physical in order to make a correct diagnosis. Often the exam will include a blood test, a urine analysis, a joint fluid specimen, and an x-ray of the involved joints. To help your doctor, you should be able to tell him or her when you first noticed the pain, how long you have had it, when it hurts, where the pain is located, whether you have noticed any swelling, if you had any trauma to the area, and whether there is a family history of this type of problem.

The two main types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

Osteoarthritis   This is the most common form of arthritis. It is also called degenerative arthritis. It usually affects weight-bearing joints such as the hips, knees, and back, but it can affect almost any joint. It causes pain and stiffness and is due to degeneration of the bone and cartilage. Men and women are usually affected at the same rate of occurrence.

Rheumatoid Arthritis   This is an inflammatory form of arthritis that is caused by the body’s own immune system acting on the joints. The joint lining is affected first and then spreads to the cartilage and bone. It occurs in women more often than in men, and it affects the same joints on both sides of the body.

Depending on the type of arthritis and its severity, treatment plans will vary and must be customized to the individual’s specific needs. Medications that act on the pain and the swelling include those sold over the counter as well as prescriptions. Exercise programs and physical therapy have helped many people relieve symptoms and increase joint mobility. The use of ice or heat over the joint may help as well. Excess weight can also cause a person’s arthritis to worsen. In all instances it is important to discuss symptoms and all treatment plans with your doctor.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.