What Is Arthritis?
More than 100 different types of arthritis exist, all of which are known for causing pain and stiffness in joints. In some cases, arthritis does not progress. However, many cases of arthritis worsen over time, eventually causing permanent damage to bones and joints and making it difficult or impossible to perform daily tasks.
Although arthritis is considered by many to be an unavoidable aspect of aging, there are certain factors that increase the likelihood of developing the condition. Those factors may include:
- Deteriorated cartilage in body joints (osteoarthritis)
- Immune system attack of the membrane surrounding joints (rheumatoid arthritis)
- Psoriasis (psoriatic arthritis)
- Bacterial infection such as chlamydia or salmonella (reactive arthritis)
The location, frequency and severity of arthritis symptoms depend on the type experienced. Here are symptoms of four common arthritis types:
- Osteoarthritis — Pain, stiffness, a sudden lack of flexibility, joint tenderness and an increased susceptibility to bone spurs are common. Symptoms come on slowly and worsen over time. The pain and stiffness are often more noticeable while or after moving.
- Rheumatoid arthritis — Typically starting in small joints (fingers or toes), rheumatoid arthritis causes joints to swell, feel tender and warm, and grow stiff, especially in the mornings or following periods of rest. Advanced cases can result in deformed joints.
- Psoriatic arthritis — As with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis symptoms come and go sporadically, without any perceived trigger. Symptoms may affect one or many joints including the spine, and the joints affected if untreated may become deformed.
- Reactive arthritis — Pain and swelling occur in the joints, particularly knees or ankles. Unlike other arthritic conditions, reactive arthritis can be an acute problem that resolves on its own.
Appropriate treatment can slow and even halt in some conditions the progression of arthritis and improve quality of life. Treatments include:
- Medication — Because osteoarthritis involves pain and inflammation, common medications to combat the condition include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and over-the-counter pain relievers, very inflamed joints may require cortisone shots. If the arthritis is more aggressive as in Rheumatoid and Psoriatic arthritis, more potent anti-inflammatory medications are prescribed. Those medications can significantly slow the progression of these diseases.
- Surgery — When more conservative treatments are not sufficient to slow arthritis, surgical intervention may offer a solution. Arthritis-damaged bone in hips, knees, shoulders and other joints may be repaired or replaced, and many of these procedures are available on an outpatient basis.
- Therapy — Physical therapists work with patients to exercise painful joints and increase flexibility — both of which help combat the effects of arthritis. Occupational therapists can teach patients how to perform daily tasks in ways that minimize pain and stiffness.
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