What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term used to describe inflammation in the joints that leads to pain and a progressive decrease in normal movement. There are more than 100 types of arthritis related diseases and it is estimated that one in every three Americans is affected by Arthritis or other chronic joint problems. Osteoarthritis strikes more than 16 million people in the United States as they grow older. By the age of 40, many people show signs of arthritis on X-rays but have no symptoms. By age 65, half of all adults have osteoarthritis in one or more joints. After the age of 75, arthritis is even more prevalent. It appears most frequently in the hips, knees, hands, and spine.

What causes arthritis?

Fractures, injuries to the cartilage and other joint injuries can all lead to excessive wear and arthritis. High loads on your joints can also lead to arthritis, for example if you are overweight or due to overuse. Heredity may also play an important role.

Osteoarthritis: This is the most common type of arthritis and results from wear and aging affecting the cartilage allowing the bones to contact and rub against one another. Excessive weight and work related activities also play a role in the development of this disease. It affects three times as many women as men. There is no known cause of primary osteoarthritis, but secondary osteoarthritis may result after injuries (traumatic arthritis) or infections (infectious arthritis) of the joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis: This is a chronic disease, the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, in which the immune system attacks the tissue that lines and cushions the joints. Most often, it appears in adult patients between the ages of 25 to 50 but it can occur in children or senior citizens. Most commonly, the joints of the fingers, wrists, arms and legs are affected and swelling, pain; deformity and stiffness are typically present. Rheumatoid arthritis may also affect the heart, lungs and eyes of some patients. The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. Seven out of ten people who have rheumatoid arthritis have inherited the predisposition to acquire this disease.

What are common symptoms of arthritis?

Osteoarthritis: Pain and swelling accompany most arthritic diseases. Symptoms with arthritis develop gradually; however, in early stages of Osteoarthritis you’ll typically have worst symptoms after activities and these symptoms disappear after rest. The pain becomes more constant and it may wake up the patient during night. The affected joint may feel warm and swollen. Other problems you may experience include the inability to move your joint normally.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: The joint becomes inflamed leading to pain, stiffness, warmth, redness and swelling. In many cases, rheumatoid arthritis develops gradually.

Other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include: Fatigue, weakness; stiffness following periods of immobility which gradually improves with movement; rheumatoid nodules (lumps of inflamed cells) under the skin usually found on the bony part of the forearm, ankle and fingers; minor fevers, anemia and weight loss.

How can I know if I have arthritis?

Your physician will take your medical history and will perform a physical exam, which together with blood analyses will aid in making the proper diagnosis. Part of your physical examination will involve an observation as you walk and comparing your healthy limb with the one that is diseased.

Your physician may also take X-rays to rule out broken bones and MRI scans to confirm soft tissue involvement. If these tests do not clearly allow your physician to diagnose your condition, you may have to undergo arthroscopy. This procedure allows the surgeon to look inside of your joint through a very small incision with a miniature camera.

What are the treatment options for arthritis?

In the early stages of arthritis there are a number of non-surgical options available. The goal of non-surgical treatment is to relieve your symptoms of pain and swelling. Exercises (physical therapy) will help you to restore normal strength and mobility. Some of the non-surgical options are:

Lifestyle changes: exercise and weight loss programs are useful. Switching from running or jumping exercises to swimming or cycling, and minimizing activities such as climbing stairs that aggravate the condition can also help minimize your pain.
 


Physical therapy: Exercises can strengthen your muscles around the affected joint and increase your range of motion and flexibility.

Topical treatments: Applications of heat, ice, or rubbing ointments to the sore joint area can help alleviate your pain.

Medications: Several types of drugs can be used in treating arthritis of the knee. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen help reduce painful inflammation. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) will help reduce pain without stomach upset but are not as effective at reducing painful inflammation. Dietary supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate are believed to help repair and maintain cartilage. Injections of corticosteroids at the site of the joint can reduce inflammation and pain. Hyaluronate therapy consists of a series of injections designed to change the character of the joint fluid.

Support devices: Using supportive devices such as a cane, wearing energy-absorbing shoes or inserts, or wearing a brace or knee sleeve can be helpful in supporting some of the weight normally directed through the affected joint.