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What is arthritis

Arthritis basics


Arthritis is a general term for a group of more than 100 diseases. The word arthritis  means joint inflammation. Inflammation is one of the body's natural reactions to disease or injury, and includes swelling, pain and stiffness. Inflammation that lasts for a very long time or recurs, as in arthritis, can lead to tissue damage.


A joint is where two or more bones  come together, such as the hip or knee.


The bones  of a joint are covered with a smooth, spongy material called cartilage, which cushions the bones and allows the joint to move without pain . The joint is enclosed in a fibrous casing called the synovium. The synovium's lining produces a slippery fluid, called synovial fluid, that nourishes the joint and helps limit friction within. Strong bands of tissue, called ligaments, connect the bones and help keep the joint stable. Muscles and tendons also support the joints and enable you to move.


With arthritis, an area in or around a joint becomes inflamed, causing pain, stiffness and, sometimes, difficulty moving. Some types of arthritis also affect other parts of the body, such as the skin and internal organs.


Types of arthritis


There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. Some of the more common types include:


Osteoarthritis: This is the most common type of arthritis. It occurs when the cartilage covering the end of the bones gradually wears away. Without the protection of the cartilage, the bones begin to rub against each other and the resulting friction leads to pain and swelling. Osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, but most often affects the hands and weight-bearing joints such as the knee, hip and facet joints (in the spine). Osteoarthritis  often occurs as the cartilage breaks down, or degenerates, with age. For this reason, osteoarthritis is sometimes called degenerative joint disease.


Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is a long-lasting disease that can affect joints in any part of the body but most commonly the hands, wrists and knees. With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system -- the body's defence system against disease -- mistakenly attacks itself and causes the joint lining to swell. The inflammation then spreads to the surrounding tissues, and can eventually damage cartilage and bone. In more severe cases, rheumatoid arthritis can affect other areas of the body, such as the skin , eyes lungs and heart.


Gout: Gout  is a painful condition that occurs when the body cannot eliminate a natural substance called uric acid. The excess uric acid forms needle-like crystals in the joints that cause swelling and severe pain. Gout most often affects the big toe, knee and wrist joints.


Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, is characterised by persistent arthritis in one or more joints for at least six weeks and after other possible illnesses have been ruled out. Treatment is essentially the same as for adult rheumatoid arthritis, with heavy emphasis on physical therapy and exercise to keep growing bodies active. Permanent damage from juvenile idiopathic arthritis is now rare, and most affected children recover from the disease fully without experiencing any lasting disabilities.


Septic (infectious) arthritis refers to various ailments that affect larger arm and leg joints as well as the fingers or toes. It is caused by a bacterial or viral infection of the joints and typically occurs around the time a person has other diseases, such as staph infection, tuberculosis, gonorrhoea or Lyme disease. It can also be a complication of injury.

Septic arthritis is much less common than arthritic conditions that come on with age. Because the symptoms may be masked by the primary injury or illness, septic arthritis may go unnoticed and, if left untreated, can result in permanent joint damage.


Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic disease characterised by inflammation of the skin ( psoriasis) and joints (arthritis). With psoriasis, there are patchy, raised, red and white areas of skin inflammation with scaling. Psoriasis usually affects the tips of the elbows and knees, the scalp, the navel, and the skin around the genital areas or anus. Psoriatic arthritis can cause a sausage-like swelling of fingers and toes, which usually occurs with fingernails that are pitted or discoloured. In some people with psoriatic arthritis, only one joint is affected. For example, a person may be affected in only one knee. Sometimes the spine is affected, or just the fingers and toes . Psoriatic arthritis usually strikes around the age of 30 to 50, affecting both men and women equally. But it can also start in childhood. The skin disease (psoriasis) and the joint disease (arthritis) often appear separately. In fact, the skin disease precedes the arthritis in nearly 80% of patients. The arthritis may precede the psoriasis in up to 15% of patients.


Arthritis symptoms


Different types of arthritis have different symptoms and the symptoms vary in severity from person to person. Osteoarthritis does not generally cause any symptoms outside the joint. Symptoms of other types of arthritis may include fatigue, fever, a rash and the signs of joint inflammation, including:

Pain

Swelling

Stiffness

Tenderness

Redness

Warmth


Arthritis causes


There are many different types of arthritis and the cause of most types is not known. It's likely that there are many different causes. Researchers are examining the role of genetics (heredity) and lifestyle choices in the development of arthritis.


Although the exact cause of arthritis may not be known, there are several risk factors for arthritis. A risk factor is a trait or behaviour that increases a person's chance of developing a disease or predisposes a person to a certain condition. Risk factors for arthritis include:

Age. The risk of developing arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, increases with age.

Gender. In general, arthritis occurs more frequently in women than in men.

Obesity. Being overweight puts extra stress on weight-bearing joints, increasing wear and tear, and increasing the risk of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis.

Work factors. Some jobs that require repetitive movements or heavy lifting can stress the joints and/or cause an injury, which can lead to arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis.


How common is arthritis?


Arthritis is very common. It has been estimated that at least 10 million people in the UK have some form of arthritis or joint pain. It is a major cause of lost work time and serious disability for many people. Osteoarthritis, the most common form, affects more than 8.5 million people in the UK. Arthritis affects people of all ages, but is more common in older adults.


Arthritis diagnosis


Osteoarthritis is typically diagnosed with a complete medical history, including a description of your symptoms, and a physical examination. Imaging techniques -- such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) -- are sometimes used to show the condition of the joints. If other types of arthritis are suspected, laboratory tests on blood, urine and/or joint fluid may be helpful in determining the type of arthritis. These tests also can help rule out other diseases as the cause of symptoms.


Arthritis treatment


The goal of treatment is to provide pain relief and increase joint mobility and strength. Treatment options include medication, exercise , heat/cold compresses, use of joint protection and surgery. A treatment plan may involve more than one of these options.


Arthritis outlook


With early diagnosis, most types of arthritis can be managed, and the pain and disability minimised. In addition, early diagnosis and treatment may be able to prevent tissue damage caused by arthritis. Early, aggressive treatment is particularly important for rheumatoid arthritis in order to help prevent further damage and disability down the road.


Arthritis prevention


Although it may not be possible to prevent arthritis, there are steps to take to reduce your risk of developing the disease and to slow or prevent permanent joint damage. These include:

Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight puts strain on your joints.

Exercising. Keeping your muscles strong can help protect and support your joints.

Using joint-protecting devices and techniques at work. Proper lifting and posture can help protect your muscles and joints.

Eating a healthy  diet. A well-balanced, nutritious diet  can help keep bones and muscles healthy.


Source: WebMD

Arthritis