More than 52.5 million adults in the United States are affected by arthritis. Many are unaware that arthritis is simply a general term referring to conditions that affect joints, tissues surrounding joints, and other connective tissue.
There are actually more than 100 types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common in the United States, affecting 27 million adults. Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1.3 million.
Osteoarthritis usually occurs later in life as the cartilage padding the bones of the joints wears away. Pain results from bones rubbing against one another. This process leads to calcium deposits and bone spurs, resulting in increased pain with movement.
Joint cartilage is constantly changing and needs movement and use to remain healthy. It is important to exercise, as active individuals are at less risk than sedentary individuals. Bike riding, swimming and water aerobics are low-impact options that can minimize joint pain.
There is nothing that can be done to replace lost cartilage, but exercise and medication can reduce the impact of the disease. Joint replacement may also be an option.
Genetics plays a role in osteoarthritis. The condition can also result from traumatic joint injuries from sports or auto accidents. Excess weight is also a contributing factor as it places greater stress on weight-bearing joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease most common between the ages of 30-50. It is caused by the body's immune system mistakenly attacking one or more joints, causing inflammation, pain, and eventually damage to the joint. Fatigue, low-grade fever and overall weakness may also be symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is more likely to affect smaller joints in the hands, wrists and feet, and usually affects multiple joints. Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and other life- threatening disorders.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids can reduce pain and inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis as well as osteoarthritis. There are also disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS) that can act on the immune system, slowing the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and possibly resulting in its remission.
Family history, hormones, and infections are factors to consider in diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking and exposure to certain chemicals have also been linked to the disease.
It is important to distinguish the type of arthritis since treatment options vary. Your healthcare provider can help you obtain an accurate diagnosis, begin appropriate treatment, and maintain your quality of life.