What Is Arthritis?
Contrary to popular belief, arthritis is not just one condition. Rather, it is an umbrella term for more than 100 diseases affecting the joints. While the cause, diagnosis and treatment of each of these conditions may be vastly different, the symptoms are similar no matter what type a person has.
Some of the more common types of arthritis include:
- Osteoarthritis—The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease in which the cartilage in a joint wears down, causing painful bone-on-bone contact
- Gout—This type of arthritis usually affects the big toe and is caused by uric acid buildup
- Psoriatic arthritis—This is an autoimmune disease that also causes psoriasis, a skin condition
- Rheumatoid arthritis—Another autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis causes the body’s immune system to attack the joints, causing pain and swelling
- Post-traumatic arthritis—This form of arthritis occurs due to injury of a joint
The type of arthritis will dictate the symptoms, but generally, symptoms of arthritis include:
- Decreased range of motion in a joint
- Pain at a joint
- Swelling of the joint
Doctors will perform a physical exam to check for joint swelling and pain. Some forms of arthritis run in families, so a family history may be helpful, as well. X-rays and blood tests can help determine the type of arthritis.
Treatment will often depend on the type of arthritis. Surgery—such as joint repair, joint replacement or joint fusion—and physical therapy may be recommended.
Common medications used to treat arthritis include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and aspirin
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and pain in the joint
- Painkillers, including acetaminophen and opioids
- Topical menthol, capsaicin or NSAID creams to reduce pain
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which stop the immune system from attacking the joints
- Biologics that target immune system chemicals
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