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Navigating Arthritis

Arthritis simply means inflammation or swelling of one or more joints. While the image most of us think of is usually one of osteoarthritis, there are actually more than 100 different conditions that affect the joints and the tissues around the joints. Specific causes, risk factors, and treatment plans vary based on which condition it is. Below, we’ve listed several of the most common types of arthritis, their signs and symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatments. 

Osteoarthritis (OA)

By far the most common type of arthritis, and usually the one people think of first, osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease. It occurs most frequently in the hands, hips, and knees. 

  • Signs and symptoms: pain or aching joints, stiffness, decreased range of motion, reduced flexibility, swelling
  • Causes: Osteoarthritis is caused by the damage or breakdown of cartilage between bones. 
  • Risk factors: Age, joint use or overuse, obesity, gender, genetics, and race are the main risk factors associated with OA. Women are more likely than men to develop it, particularly after age 50. Risk also increases with age, as well as if you have family members with a history of OA. Furthermore, if you have OA in your hands, you’re more likely to develop it in your knees. 
  • Treatment: There is no cure, so supportive care through a series of therapies is typically the preferred treatment from healthcare teams. Increasing physical activity, physical therapy, and weight loss are lifestyle changes that providers typically recommend for those suffering from OA. Medications, including both over-the-counter treatment and prescription medications, can ease discomfort, along with supportive devices like canes or walkers.

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an autoimmune disorder, meaning your immune system attacks healthy cells in your body by mistake, causing inflammation and painful swelling in the affected parts of the body. RA primarily affects the joints and typically affects multiple joints at once, usually the hands, wrists, and knees. 

  • Signs and symptoms: pain, stiffness, and aching in multiple joints, tenderness and/or swelling in multiple joints, weight loss, fever, fatigue, or weakness
  • Causes: Because RA is an autoimmune disorder, the specific causes are unknown. 
  • Risk factors: RA can begin at any age, but the most common onset of symptoms is in patients in their 60s. Gender also is a risk factor with the majority of patients identifying as female. Smoking and obesity are also significant risk factors for RA.
  • Treatment: RA can be effectively treated and managed with medication and self-management strategies. Similar to OA, treatment for RA often includes recommendations for additional physical activity along with lifestyle changes like a healthy diet and smoking cessation. 

Other Types of Arthritis

  • Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain all over the body, sleep problems, and fatigue, along with other forms of mental and emotional distress. The cause is unknown, but women are twice as likely as men to receive a fibromyalgia diagnosis. Treatment is very similar to treatment for RA. 
  • Gout: Gout is a common form of inflammatory arthritis that is very painful. It typically affects one joint at a time, most often the big toe joint. Gout manifests as pain, swelling, redness, and heat radiating from the affected joint during a flare-up. Previously referred to as a “rich man’s disease,” gout disproportionately affects men, and risk factors include obesity, hypertension, alcohol use, and eating a diet high in purines, which include red meats, organ meats, and some seafood. 
  • Juvenile Arthritis: The most common type of childhood arthritis is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Symptoms include joint pain, swelling, fever, stiffness, rash, fatigue, loss of appetite, and difficulty with daily activities like walking and playing. Although there is no cure, some children with arthritis will go into permanent remission, so the disease is no longer active. 

As you can see, there are many types of arthritis that affect many different people. In general, the healthier lifestyle you lead, the less likely you are to develop arthritis. However, family history and other factors can play a role. It’s important to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider if you’re noticing signs or symptoms of arthritis or have a family history of arthritis.