Arthritis

Arthritis can be distracting. Distressing. And disheartening. It can make you hesitant. It can frustrate — and even prevent — you from doing all the things you love to do. It is, quite literally, a pain. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. The most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

The good news is that you can live — and live well — with arthritis. You can get relief from its pain and its consequences. One of the best and effective ways to combat arthritis pain is simple: exercise. Regular exercise not only helps maintain joint function, but also relieves stiffness and decreases pain and fatigue. Other ways to ease arthritis pain include medications, physical therapy, joint replacement surgery, and some alternative or complementary procedures.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. It starts with the deterioration of cartilage, the flexible tissue lining joints. The space between bones gradually narrows and the bone surfaces change shape. Over time, this leads to joint damage and pain. The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually develop over many years. The first sign is often joint pain after strenuous activity or overusing a joint. Joints may be stiff in the morning, but loosen up after a few minutes of movement. Or the joint may be mildly tender, and movement may cause a crackling or grating sensation.

Osteoarthritis was long considered a natural consequence of aging, the result of gradual wearing down of cartilage. The cause of osteoarthritis is much more complex than simple wear and tear. External factors, such as injuries, can initiate chronic cartilage breakdown. Inactivity and excess weight can also trigger the problem or make it worse. Genetic factors can affect how quickly it gets worse.

There is currently no cure for osteoarthritis. But there are effective treatments that can greatly improve a person's quality of life by relieving pain, protecting joints, and increasing range of motion in the affected joint. Therapy usually involves a combination of nondrug treatments such as heat, ice, and exercise; medication for pain and inflammation; and the use of assistive devices such as canes or walkers. In some cases, more aggressive treatment with surgery or joint replacement may be needed.

Arthritis Articles

Takayasu's Arteritis

Takayasu's arteritis is a chronic (long-term) disease in which arteries become inflamed. It is also known as Takayasu's aortitis, pulseless disease and aortic arch syndrome. The name comes from the doctor who first reported the problem in 1905, Dr. Mikito Takayasu. In most cases, Takayasu's arteritis targets the aorta and its major branches, including arteries to the brain, arms and kidneys. The aorta is the body's main artery, which pumps oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Less frequently, the pulmonary artery and coronary arteries also are involved. This problem causes damage to the body's major organs; reduced or absent pulses in the arms and legs; and symptoms of poor circulation, such as a cool or cold arm or leg, muscle pains with use or exertion, or symptoms of stroke if brain arteries are narrowed or blocked. Over time, Takayasu's arteritis can cause scarring, narrowing and abnormal ballooning of involved blood vessels. The disease can be fatal. (Locked) More »

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic (long-lasting) inflammatory disease that causes pain, stiffness, warmth, redness and swelling in joints. Over time, the affected joints may become misshapen, misaligned and damaged. Tissue lining the joint can become thick, and may wear away surrounding ligaments, cartilage and bone as it spreads. Rheumatoid arthritis usually occurs in a symmetrical pattern, meaning that if one knee or hand has it, the other usually does, too. The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is unknown, although it appears to be an autoimmune disease. When the body's immune system does not operate as it should, white blood cells that normally attack bacteria or viruses attack healthy tissue instead — in this case, the synovium, or joint tissue. As the synovial membrane (the thin layer of cells lining the joint) becomes inflamed, enzymes are released. Over time, these enzymes and certain immune cells damage the cartilage, bone, tendons and ligaments near the joint. Some research suggests that a virus triggers this faulty immune response. However, there is not yet convincing evidence that a virus is the cause of rheumatoid arthritis. At the same time, it appears that some people are more likely to get the disease because of their genetics. Environmental factors may also be important. For example, smoking is a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most disabling form of arthritis, generally affects more than one joint at a time. Commonly affected joints include those in the hands, wrists, feet, ankles, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees and neck. Rheumatoid arthritis can result in loose, deformed joints, loss of mobility and diminished strength. It also can cause painless lumps the size of a pea or acorn, called rheumatoid nodules. These develop under the skin, especially around the elbow or beneath the toes. Generally, the pain of rheumatoid arthritis is described as a dull ache, similar to that of a headache or toothache. Pain is typically worse in the morning. It is not rare to have 30 minutes to an hour or more of morning stiffness. On days when the disease is more active, you may experience fatigue, loss of appetite, low-grade fever, sweats and difficulty sleeping. Because rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease (meaning it can affect the entire body), you also may have inflammation in other areas, including the heart, lungs or eyes. Symptoms vary between people and even in one person over time. People with mild forms of the disease are bothered by pain and stiffness, but they may not experience any joint damage. For other people, damage occurs early, requiring aggressive medical and surgical treatment. People with rheumatoid arthritis may notice worsening and improvement for no apparent reason. Although this disease most often afflicts people between the ages of 20 and 50, it may affect children and the elderly. Of the 2 million people with rheumatoid arthritis in the United States, at least 75 percent are women. (Locked) More »

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that mainly affects the lower back. It causes inflammation and damage at the joints, and first affects the sacroiliac joints between the spine and the pelvis. It also can affect other areas of the spine and other joints, such as the knee. Eventually, inflamed spinal joints can become fused, or joined together so they can't move independently. The word spondylitis refers to inflammation of the spine; ankylosis means fusion or the melding of two bones into one. (Locked) More »

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic (long-lasting) disease in which a person with psoriasis develops the symptoms and signs of arthritis joint pain, stiffness and swelling. Psoriasis is a common, inherited skin condition that causes grayish-white scaling over a pink or dull-red skin rash. Psoriasis can develop before or after the arthritis, but psoriasis develops first in about 75% of cases. A person may begin to get morning joint stiffness before the arthritis is recognized. People who have psoriasis that involves the nails, especially nail pitting, are much more likely to develop arthritis than those without this problem (50% versus 10%). The cause of psoriatic arthritis is unknown. There is some evidence that infection or trauma can play a role in the development of the disease. For example, psoriatic arthritis seems to flare up in people whose immune systems are affected by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Also, heredity seems to play a role. Up to 40% of people with psoriatic arthritis have a family history of skin or joint disease. Certain genes seem to be involved in certain types of psoriatic arthritis. For example, the gene HLA-B27 has been associated with psoriatic spondylitis. (Locked) More »