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Last Updated: June 06, 2018

Arthritis - Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Gout

Overview

Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joints, and is characterized by pain and stiffness around one or more joints. The term arthritis may also be used broadly to describe a number of diseases associated with the breakdown of tissues surrounding the joints, as well as other connective tissues. Severe arthritis can impair limb function; cause deformity of the joints; and, in some cases, affect other organs in the body.

In the United States, the most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout. Some in the medical community include fibromyalgia as a major form of arthritis, while others consider it a separate condition, primarily because one of its characteristics is an absence of joint inflammation or damage.

Depending on the form, arthritis may be caused by aging, autoimmune disorder, infection or other underlying conditions. The main goal of arthritis treatment is to minimize pain and improve physical function. Roughly 50 million Americans report being diagnosed with arthritis, with a higher prevalence in women (24.3%) than in men (18.3%).

Causes and Risk Factors

The cause of arthritis for the types common in the United States are summarized below:

knee joint cross section showing bones, ligaments and cartilage

Risk factors for developing arthritis are as follows:

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The most common symptoms of arthritis are pain and swelling around the affected joint(s). Arthritis symptoms include:

The first step in diagnosing arthritis is a physical exam to check for swelling, redness, and warmth at the joints. Laboratory tests and visualization methods further help diagnose the disease and assess the extent of tissue damage, respectively.

DNA health testing additionally could help to rule out whether you are genetically at higher risk of suffering from hereditary hemochromatosis, which can cause significant joint pain and is caused by an overload of iron stored in your body.

Treatment

Arthritis is not a curable disease, the only exception being infectious arthritis, which can be fully treated with antimicrobials and sometimes surgery to remove infected tissue. In most cases, medication and surgical procedures are used to treat the symptoms of arthritis and improve quality of life.

Prevention

Maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding activities that can injure the joints help prevent the onset of arthritis. Early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis symptoms in at-risk individuals help prevent severe damage to joints and surrounding tissues.

Sources

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Authored by: Tina Shahian, PhD