Arthritis, in general terms, means inflammation and swelling of a joint. This term encompasses the inflammation and swelling of the cartilage and lining of the joints, generally accompanied by an increase in the fluid in the joints.
Arthritis leads to pain, swelling, loss of function and mobility therefore early diagnosis and treatment is of paramount importance.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis. Here are the most common forms and their symptoms:
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It is frequently called degenerative joint disease or “wear and tear” arthritis. Although it can be brought on suddenly by an injury, its onset is generally gradual; aging brings on a breakdown in cartilage, and pain gets progressively more severe, although it can be relieved with rest.
Dull, throbbing nighttime pain is characteristic, and it may be accompanied by muscle weakness or deterioration. Walking may become erratic. It is a particular problem for the feet when people are overweight, simply because there are so many joints in each foot. The additional weight contributes to the deterioration of cartilage and the development of bone spurs.
RA is a major crippling disorder and perhaps the most serious form of arthritis. It is a complex, chronic inflammatory system of diseases, often affecting more than a dozen smaller joints during the course of the disease, frequently in a symmetrical pattern—both ankles, or the index fingers of both hands, for example.
It is often accompanied by signs and symptoms—lengthy morning stiffness, fatigue, and weight loss—and it may affect various systems of the body, such as the eyes, lungs, heart, and nervous system. Women are three or four times more likely than men to suffer RA.
RA has a much more acute onset than osteoarthritis. It is characterized by alternating periods of remission, during which symptoms disappear, and exacerbation, marked by the return of inflammation, stiffness, and pain. Serious joint deformity and loss of motion frequently result from acute RA. However, the disease system has been known to be active for months, or years, then abate, sometimes permanently.
Gout is a condition caused by a buildup of uric acid—a normal byproduct of the diet—in the joints. With this type of arthritis, a single big toe joint is commonly the affected area, since it is farthest from the heart, and therefore the coldest; attacks of gouty arthritis are extremely painful, perhaps more so than any other form of arthritis.
Men are much more likely to be afflicted than women, an indication that heredity may play a role in the disease. While a rich diet that contains lots of red meat, rich sauces, shellfish, red wine, and brandy is popularly associated with gout, there are other protein compounds in foods such as lentils and beans that may play a role.
Psoriasis is often thought of as a skin disorder, but it can affect the joints as well. On the skin, psoriasis appears as dry, scaly patches. Not all people with psoriasis of the skin will develop joint symptoms—about one in twenty people with psoriasis will develop associated arthritis.
The arthritis may be mild and involve only a few joints, particularly those at the ends of the fingers or toes. People who also have arthritis usually have the skin and nail changes of psoriasis. Often, the skin gets worse at the same time as arthritis.
Traumatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that is caused by blunt, penetrating, or repeated trauma or from forced inappropriate motion of a joint or ligament. Injury to a joint, such as a bad sprain or fracture, can cause damage to the articular cartilage. This damage to the cartilage eventually leads to arthritic changes in the joint.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the different causes of arthritis and how to prevent it, here’s all you need to know about arthritis.