Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint.
Types of arthritis
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
An estimated 27 million adults in the United States live with osteoarthritis - the most common type of arthritis. Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is caused by the breakdown of cartilage, which is the connective tissue that cushions the ends of bones within the joint. Osteoarthritis is characterized by pain, joint damage, and limited motion. The disease generally occurs late in life, and most commonly affects the hands and large weight-bearing joints, such as the knees. Age, female gender, and obesity are risk factors for this condition.
Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness.
The cartilage lining of the joint can then thin and tissues within the joint can become more active. This can then lead to swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes.
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage (connective tissue) between the bones gradually erodes, causing bone in the joints to rub together. The joints that are most commonly affected are those in the hands, spine, knees and hips.
In the UK, rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 400,000 people. It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old.
Women are three times more likely to be affected than men.
Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are two different conditions. Rheumatoid osteoarthritis occurs when the body's immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling.
The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint's shape. This can cause the bone and cartilage to break down.
People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.
Symptoms of arthritis
The symptoms of arthritis you experience will vary depending on the type you have.
This is why it's important to have an accurate diagnosis if you have:
- joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
- inflammation in and around the joints
- restricted movement of the joints
- warm, red skin over the affected joint
- weakness and muscle wasting
There's no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow down the condition. For osteoarthritis, painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids are often prescribed.
In treating rheumatoid arthritis, the aim is to slow down the condition's progress and minimise damage to the joints. Recommended treatments include:
- analgesics (painkillers)
- disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- regular exercise
Sources: NHS Choices (Arthritis), US Dept of Health and Human Services (Arthritis)