Arthritis - The Basic Facts

Information You Need to Know

Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. "Arth" refers to the joints, and "itis" refers to inflammation. Despite what most people think, arthritis is not a single disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis affecting people of all ages, including about 300,000 children.

Senior woman having physical therapy.
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Warning Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis

The warning signs for arthritis include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint stiffness
  • Difficulty moving one or more joints (limited range of motion)

If the signs or symptoms persist, you should consult a healthcare provider.

Most Common Form of Arthritis

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis, sometimes referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis affects more than 27 million people in the United States. The primary form of osteoarthritis is usually related to aging, but secondary osteoarthritis can develop as a result of joint injury or obesity.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Is an Autoimmune Disease

Rheumatoid arthritis is another common form of arthritis. It is an autoimmune disease and affects 1.5 million adults in the United States. In rheumatoid arthritis, a person's own immune system attacks cells within its own joint capsule. Chronic inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis destroys cartilage, bone, and ligaments, leading to possible deformity and disability. There can also be systemic effects associated with severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis.

There Is No Cure for Arthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. There are various treatment options that can help with managing pain and reducing the risk of permanent joint deformity and disability. Early diagnosis and an aggressive treatment plan are recognized as two very important factors in getting arthritis under control.

An Aggressive Treatment Plan - What's That?

Depending on your individual symptoms and examination, your healthcare provider may decide to treat you aggressively and not conservatively. Treating conservatively involves prescribing only aspirin, Tylenol, or one of the older traditional NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

If you have an inflammatory type of arthritis and if your practitioner wishes to treat you more aggressively, he may add methotrexate or Arava (leflunomide) to your regimen. Methotrexate and Arava are among a class of drugs known as DMARDS (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs). Beyond that, there is a class of drugs known as biologics.

Prednisone is also a consideration when trying to stop an arthritic flare. More drugs are still in development. There are a myriad of arthritis treatments to try. Exercise programs, physical therapy, surgery, and other complementary treatments may become part of your treatment regimen.

How Arthritis Is Diagnosed

If you suspect you have arthritis, or if arthritic symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, you should see a healthcare provider. An examination will be performed in the practitioner's office, and your medical history will be taken. After your consultation, the healthcare provider will order appropriate laboratory tests and x-rays to confirm the diagnosis of arthritis. Basic tests will be ordered at first, and there may be more complicated tests ordered later on. The tests determine if you have abnormal signs of inflammation, joint damage or erosions.

Get a Referral to a Rheumatologist

Rheumatologists are medical doctors who specialize in arthritis and arthritis-related diseases. Rheumatologists are highly qualified diagnosticians and experts regarding treatment options for arthritis. Have your internist or primary doctor refer you to a rheumatologist.

Fast Statistics About Arthritis

  • 52.50 million of adults have self-reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis.
  • 67 million (25%) adults, 18 years or older, will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis by the year 2030.
  • Arthritis and other rheumatic conditions are the most common cause of disability among U.S. adults and have been for the past 15 years.
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