Arthritis Symptoms, Types, Treatments

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Arthritis is a potentially debilitating disease from which millions of individuals around the world suffer. It is characterized by joint pain and inflammation, which is typically chronic in nature. The condition has a tendency to run in families, and although it can afflict young people, it is seen more often in older individuals.

While the disease can often lower one’s quality of life, there are effective ways to ease the symptoms of arthritis, and when such treatments are used, many arthritis sufferers find relief allowing for living relatively pain free lives.


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However, doctors and patients must first identify the type of arthritis from which one is suffering, and create a care plan that focuses on effective treatments and strategies to control symptoms.

Types of Arthritis

Over 100 types of arthritis have been identified by researchers in the medical field; however, most types fall into one of two categories: rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Some individuals with the condition find that their symptoms are mild, and do not affect their ability to live a normal life.  Others find that their condition is severely limiting, and even completing simple tasks requires a substantial amount of effort.

To make a definitive diagnosis, a physician will usually order a series of X-rays and blood tests.


The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 40 million individuals suffer from osteoarthritis, and approximately 8.1 million individuals in the United States suffer from debilitating pain due to this type of the disease.

The condition occurs when the protective cartilage surrounding the ends of the patient’s bones begins to deteriorate.

Although this type of arthritis can cause problems in virtually any joint, it is most commonly seen in the hips, knees, neck, lower back and hands.

Once the deterioration of the cartilage has begun, it will gradually worsen over time and there is currently no known cure.

The symptoms of the disease include pain and stiffness, and these symptoms may become more severe with movement. There may also be a tenderness in the affected joints, which worsens when even light pressure is applied.

Many sufferers experience a loss of flexibility in the affected joints, as well as a limited range of motion. Bone spurs–extra pieces of bone that often jut out at odd angles–are a common side effect of osteoarthritis.

However, the presence of bones spurs alone does not mean a person has arthritis, as some bone spurs are idiopathic–for no known cause.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

As the second most common type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects 16 million people in the United States alone. This type of arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the lining of the joints, most often those of the hands and feet.

This lining becomes painfully inflamed and considerable swelling is usually present, which can eventually cause joint deformity and bone erosion.

Once considered a variation of osteoarthritis, it is now known that rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease.

The condition occurs when one’s immune system attacks the tissues in his or her body, as it mistakenly identifies them as something foreign.

Rheumatoid arthritis typically strikes between the ages of 40 and 60 and is seen significantly more in women than in men.

In the early stages of the disease, rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the smaller joints, such as those of the fingers and toes.

After the first few years, symptoms often spread to the shoulders, hips, elbows, ankles and knees.

Many times, rheumatoid arthritis symptoms come and go, depending on how virulently the person’s immune system is attacking his or her body. Often, a person experiences periods of remission, when his or her symptoms essentially disappear.

However, such remission is usually short-lived and followed by a severe flare-up. It is possible for rheumatoid arthritis to cause joints to shift from their normal position, resulting in physical deformities.

Symptoms of this type of arthritis include swollen joints that are tender and sometimes hot to the touch, and morning stiffness that lasts until midday.

A person may also discover the presence of rheumatoid nodules–hard bumps of tissue that appear sporadically under the skin on his or her arms.

In addition, many patients experience unexplained fever and chronic fatigue, which sometimes manifest before any visible swelling or redness of the joints has occurred.

As with any autoimmune diseases, symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can also include unexplained weight loss and swollen lymph glands.

Arthritis Treatments

Treatments for the disorder usually include some type of physical therapy, which will vary from patient to patient. Most therapies focus on treating soft tissue to reduce pain, and building muscle that can eventually compensate for weak joints.

Stimulation of the patient’s nerve endings has also proven helpful in reducing pain and tenderness.

Physical therapy helps patients to build strength and improve their mobility, joint function, and balance.

If physical therapy alone does not offer a person adequate relief, his or her physician can prescribe drugs such Flurbiprofen, Meloxicam, or Relafen to reduce painful symptoms. Such medications are classified as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories–NSAIDS–and are usually the drug class of choice for most types of arthritis.

Those who have a low tolerance for pain, or for whom NSAIDS are not effective, may find relief from other prescription drugs known as opioid analgesic. Sometimes cortisone shots are given to reduce pain and swelling, and many individuals find substantial relief from this treatment.

However, such medications are typically prescribed for short term use, as using such drugs for an extended amount of time can result in personality changes, mood swings, insomnia and in rare cases, psychotic behavior.

When all other treatment options fail, surgery may be necessary. A procedure called a synovectomy, which is the removal of the affected joint’s lining, is commonly performed on those with rheumatoid arthritis, while total joint replacement is a more common procedure for those with osteoarthritis.

Only a physician can determine which surgery is best for each patient.

Additional Considerations

There is no fool-proof way to prevent the occurrence of any type of arthritis, but there are ways to stop the disease’s progression and slow down permanent damage to one’s joints. Those who have been diagnosed with any type of the disease should adhere to their prescribed treatments and therapies, and see a rheumatologist regularly.

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