Arthritis

Was this helpful?
(29)
Introduction

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term for more than 100 diseases that cause inflammation, pain, stiffness and swelling of joints. Common types of arthritis include:

  • Osteoarthritis - an ongoing, progressive disease that affects the joints as cartilage breaks down over time. Osteoarthritis is also called degenerative joint disease.

  • Rheumatoid arthritis - an autoimmune disease that affects the joints of the body with episodes of painful inflammation. Rheumatoid arthritis also affects other organs of the body and can result in the destruction of joints, disability, and, in severe cases, life-threatening complications.

  • Septic arthritis - arthritis caused by the infection of a joint by microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi.

Complications of all forms of arthritis can be serious and include destruction of the joints, leading to disability. Rheumatoid arthritis and septic arthritis can also lead to serious or life-threatening complications that can affect almost any organ in the body.
Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of arthritis, such as inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling of joints. Early diagnosis and treatment can minimize discomfort and reduce the risk of serious complications.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

The types and severity of symptoms of arthritis can vary depending on the specific type of arthritis. The hallmark symptoms of all forms of arthritis include:

  • Joint inflammation and warmth

  • Joint pain

  • Joint stiffness

  • Joint swelling

Additional symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Crunching, crackling or grating sound or sensation in the affected joint

  • Symptoms affecting weight-bearing joints (including knees and hips)

  • Joint deformity in later stages of the disease

  • Joint pain that becomes worse with time and can lead to difficulty moving and immobility

  • Joint pain that increases with or is aggravated by certain types of activities, including excessive exercise or excessive inactivity

Additional symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Fatigue

  • Joint destruction that develops within one to two years after the onset of the disease

  • Loss of appetite

  • Muscle achiness throughout the body

  • Stiffness that lasts more than one hour after rising in the morning

  • Symmetric joint swelling and deformity

  • Weakness

Additional symptoms of septic arthritis include:

Causes

What causes arthritis?

The underlying cause of arthritis varies depending on the specific type:

  • Osteoarthritis is caused by injury or wear and tear of the cartilage over time. Cartilage is a smooth, slippery tissue that protects the ends of bones and helps bones to move easily without damaging bone tissue.

  • The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not known, but it is classified as an autoimmune disease. In an autoimmune disease, the body’s immune system mistakes healthy tissues as dangerous to the body and attacks them. This results in inflammation that eventually can destroy the affected joints and damage blood vessels and organs. A long list of physical and environmental triggers can aggravate rheumatoid arthritis and intensify its symptoms.

  • Septic arthritis is caused by an infection of a joint by microorganisms, such as bacteria or fungi. Septic arthritis can occur when microorganisms enter a joint through a wound in the skin. Septic arthritis can also be caused by microorganisms that spread to a joint from another infection in the body, such as a boil, tuberculosis or cellulitis.

What are the risk factors for arthritis?

A number of factors may increase your chances of developing some form of arthritis. Not all people with risk factors will develop arthritis, and not all people with arthritis have risk factors. Risk factors include:

  • Being a woman

  • Being obese or overweight

  • Being older than age 45 for osteoarthritis and between 25 and 45 years old for rheumatoid arthritis

  • Having a boil, tuberculosis or cellulitis

  • Having a family history of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or autoimmune disorders

  • Having a previous joint injury

  • Leading a sedentary lifestyle

  • Smoking

Reducing your risk of arthritis

You can lower your risk of developing arthritis by :

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Not smoking

  • Participating in a regular exercise program

  • Seeking regular medical care and following your treatment plan for joint injuries and infectious diseases, such as a boil, tuberculosis and cellulitis

  • Washing your hands often

  • Wearing recommended gear that protects joints during contact sports and dangerous activities

Treatments

How is arthritis treated?

Arthritis treatment plans use a multifaceted approach and are individualized to the specific type of arthritis and the stage of advancement of the disease, as well as your age, medical history, and coexisting diseases or conditions. There is no cure for osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, but with early recognition and treatment, it is possible to minimize or delay joint damage and complications, such as chronic pain and disability.

Medications and treatments that are commonly used to treat most forms of arthritis include:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin, which can help strengthen damaged joint cartilage

  • Heat and cold therapies

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and aspirin

  • Occupational therapy to help maximize function

  • Physical therapy, including range-of-motion exercises that can help strengthen joints and delay the loss of joint function

Medications and treatments used to treat osteoarthritis may include:

  • Cortisone injections

  • Injection of a synovial fluid substitute to help lubricate joints and ease stiffness and movement

  • Surgery to help improve joint pain, correct deformities, and increase function in seriously affected joints. Surgery may include a synovectomy, the removal of the joint lining. Total joint replacements may also be performed in severe cases. In these cases, a diseased joint in the knee or hip is replaced with a new, synthetic joint (prosthesis).

Medications and treatments used to treatment rheumatoid arthritis may include:

  • Anakinra (Kineret), which reduces inflammation

  • Corticosteroid medications, which reduce inflammation

  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which may reduce inflammation and slow the destruction of joints

  • Surgery to help improve joint pain, correct deformities, and increase function in seriously affected joints. Surgery may include a synovectomy, the removal of the joint lining. Total joint replacements may also be performed in severe cases. In these cases, a diseased joint in the knee or hip is replaced with a new, synthetic joint (prosthesis).

  • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, which reduce inflammation

Medications and treatments used to treatment septic arthritis may include:

  • Antibiotics if caused by a bacterial infection

  • Surgically opening up the affected joint to drain infected synovial fluid

What are the possible complications of arthritis?

In some cases, arthritis can lead to serious, even life-threatening complications. Complications of arthritis include:

It is important to seek medical care if you have symptoms of arthritis. Early diagnosis and treatment can minimize discomfort and reduce your risk of these serious complications.

Was this helpful?
(29)
Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2018 Nov 12
  1. Collins RD. Differential Diagnosis in Primary Care, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2012.
Explore Arthritis
Recommended Reading
Next Up
Answers to Your Health Questions
Trending Videos