What is arthritis? The word arthritis is a general term, not a specific illness. Most everyone knows that if someone has arthritis, then that person is having a problem with their joints. But, most people do not realize that there are over 115 different arthritic diseases.
A few of the most common types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. However, there are over 100 others in addition.
What are some of the most common types of arthritis?
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common kind of arthritis. The problem in OA is the breakdown of cartilage in joints. This causes pain in the affected joint with use. For example, OA in the knee causes knee pain with walking or climbing steps.
In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), inflammation causes the joints to be swollen, stiff, and tender. Unlike OA, however, the inflamed joints in RA will often feel better with use. Because it is an inflammatory illness, RA can affect other parts of the body, including the skin, nerves, heart, and lungs.
Gout is caused by uric acid, a chemical made by the body, which gets into the joints. It causes sudden episodes of very painful, swollen joints.
How can we help treat arthritis?
It is important to have an evaluation to determine which arthritic disease is causing the problem. Like other illnesses, early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis can impact the outcome of the illness.
The diagnosis of a particular kind of arthritis usually depends on a lot of different information. If someone with joint problems sees a rheumatologist, a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis, the evaluation will begin with a history of the problem: When did the symptoms start? Which joints hurt? Are the joints stiff? What makes the symptoms worse or makes them feel better? A physical exam of the joints, x-rays, and certain lab tests will also typically be done. It is important to know that the symptoms of some types of arthritis develops over time and may appear similar to other types in the early stages. It may take several visits before the doctor can tell what type of arthritis a patient has.
If joint symptoms occur and persist, it is important to determine which specific arthritic disease is causing the problem. Like other diseases, the earlier the diagnosis is made, the better the outcome is likely to be. Another reason to have an accurate diagnosis is that different arthritic diseases require different treatments. Most arthritic diseases are not curable, but most are manageable and respond to treatment, often requiring some combination of medication (pills or infusion), joint injection, physical therapy, and surgery.