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What is Arthritis?
Arthritis literally means "joint inflammation" and can affect joints in any part of the body. A joint is where two or more bones come together such as the knee, shoulder or wrist. Healthy joints are covered with a sponge-like material known as cartilage. The joint itself is enclosed in synovium, a sturdy sheath that produces synovial fluid that assists the cartilage in limiting friction between the bones. A joint that is affected by arthritis will become inflamed, which causes symptoms that range from mild pain, swelling, redness, heat, stiffness, and severe joint pain that may make it difficult to move.
Arthritis is a general term for a group of more than 100 diseases associated with joint inflammation. The three most common kinds of arthritis include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. Arthritis is one of the most common diseases in the United States and affects at least 80 million Americans, half of whom are age 65 and older. Arthritis is often a chronic disease, meaning it can affect the person afflicted over a long period of time.
Types of Arthritis
Although there are more than 100 different diseases associated with the term arthritis, the three most common are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting an estimated 21 million adults in the United States. It mostly affects the cartilage, the tissue that covers the ends of the bones within a joint to create a cushion between the bones. Over time, or because of disease, the cartilage may begin to wear out or decay; in some extreme cases, all the cartilage can be worn out leaving nothing to keep the bones within the joint from rubbing against each other. This friction often leads to pain and swelling, and in some cases disability. Although osteoarthritis can occur in any joint, it most often affects the large weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips, and feet, as well as the hands, low back (spinal facet joints) and neck.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the synovium, or lining of the joint, that not only affects joints in any part of the body, but may also attack tissue in the skin, lungs, eyes, and blood vessels. Classified as an autoimmune disease, the immune system of a person with rheumatoid arthritis mistakenly turns against the person's body and starts attacking the joints, which leads to swelling in the joint lining. In addition to the usual symptoms associated with arthritis such as pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of function in the joints, a person with rheumatoid arthritis may feel tired and be feverish. Rheumatoid arthritis generally affects the person in a symmetrical pattern, meaning if the left knee is involved, the right one will be affected too. About 1 percent of the U.S. population (about 2.1 million people) has rheumatoid arthritis.
Gout is one of the most painful rheumatic conditions and often begins with a sudden onset of intense pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, which may also be warm to the touch and red. Gout is brought on when the body cannot eliminate a naturally occurring substance called uric acid. Before an attack, uric acid in the form of needle-like crystals, build up in the connective tissue in the joint. This deposit leads to inflammation of the joint. Gout is often triggered by stressful events, alcohol or drugs, or the presence of another illness, and frequently affects joints in the lower part of the body including knees, heels, ankles, or toes, especially the big toe.
What Are the Symptoms of Arthritis?
Different types of arthritis have different symptoms. In general, people who have arthritis feel pain and stiffness in the joints. Some of the more common symptoms are listed in the box. Early diagnosis and treatment help decrease further joint damage and help control symptoms of arthritis and many other rheumatic diseases.
Some of the more common symptoms are listed below
- Swelling in one or more joints
- Stiffness around the joints that lasts for at least 1 hour in the early morning
- Constant or recurring pain or tenderness in a joint
- Difficulty using or moving a joint normally
- Warmth and redness in a joint
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