Arthritis

Published: April 14, 2010

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What Is It?

Arthritis is a joint disorder that causes mild to severe inflammation, stiffness, and pain. The condition is common among older adults but can also affect younger adults and even children. The condition can limit your flexibility and range of motion and can cause pain that ranges from mild to extreme. The symptoms tend to be more common and pronounced among older adults as a result of the natural aging process.

There are over one hundred types of arthritis that occur for a variety of reasons. Some result from underlying conditions like autoimmune attacks, infections, or viruses, and others result from injury or old age. For some people, arthritis is a lifelong condition that is incurable and untreatable. For others, arthritis is treatable or can resolve itself.

Arthritis can be difficult to live with. For most people, the condition becomes worse and difficult to treat. It is unhealthy to keep taking over-the-counter medications, and prescription drugs are not feasible options for everyone.

Emotionally, living with arthritis can be tough. Slowly and steadily, you may notice that you have more trouble with your occupation and other daily activities. You may not be able to control flare-ups that limit your range of motion by causing stiffness and pain.

Types

There are more than one hundred types of arthritis, making arthritis one of the most common chronic conditions in the world. Arthritis can occur for a variety of reasons that include autoimmune diseases, viruses, bacterial infections, old age, and injury. The most common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and juvenile arthritis.

Some forms of arthritis occur naturally as a result of age because of wear and tear on the bones, while other forms of arthritis occur because of an underlying condition that is a virus, bacterial infection, or inheritable disease.

Arthritis types run in the family, so there is a likelihood that you will develop the types of arthritis that your parents or immediate family members experienced.

Some autoimmune conditions can cause arthritis in addition to a low-grade fever.

Symptoms & Warning Signs

Swelling, joint pain, limited joint movement, stiffness, redness, extreme tenderness, and warmth over the joint are some of the common symptoms of arthritis. In rheumatic forms of arthritis, swollen glands, fatigue, weight loss, and other general symptoms are present. Kidney problems can also be a symptom if systemic forms of arthritis. If you start to experience chronic pain and swelling in the same joint areas, you may have arthritis. Over time, mild symptoms can worsen.

It is normal for people with some forms of arthritis to develop a low-grade fever during a flare-up, especially if the condition is autoimmune. If your fever persists, or if your fever spikes, you should see a doctor as soon as possible since you may be experiencing another underlying infection.

Causes & Risk Factors

The causes and risk factors depend on the type of arthritis. Injury and age put a person more at risk for osteoarthritis, while systemic diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis don't have clear cut causes or risks. Heredity is also a major risk factor. Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis can affect children as well as adults, while osteoarthritis is more likely to affect an older person.

Certain types of arthritis, such as autoimmune conditions, are genetic. Check to see whether arthritis runs in your family.

Prevention & Treatment

Regular, low impact exercise can help prevent arthritis. If you are moving and stretching, you are less likely to feel stiff. In any case, most types of arthritis are impossible to prevent, especially if they are related to an autoimmune condition, disease, or injury.

Treatment for arthritis will vary based on the type of arthritis. Physical therapy can effectively treat some forms of arthritis. Other treatments include medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, herbal supplements, support splints, immunosuppressant drugs, paraffin wax drips, hot packs, cold packs, and surgery.

Tests & Diagnosis

To diagnose arthritis, a doctor will conduct a physical examination and ask questions about your personal and family medical history. X-rays can show damage from osteoarthritis and group. Blood and urine tests can assess damage to organs and other bodily systems. A rheumatologist is a specialist who treats arthritis and related conditions.

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