What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is not just one disease. It refers to diseases which cause swelling and stiffness in a person's joints. There are over one hundred different types. People of all ages may have some form of arthritis. Joint pain may become more extreme over the course of time or stay on a level basis for a while. Sometimes the changes in the joints are visible, such as knobby finger joints. Some changes show up only on x-rays. Arthritis is the most common chronic disease in the United States.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. The cartilage between the bones in joints wears away, and the bones begin to rub each other causing pain and stiffness. Those who are overweight, have a family history of this type of arthritis, are older and those with previous joint injuries are at a high risk of contracting this type of arthritis.
If the symptoms are not too severe, exercise, over the counter pain relievers and hot and cold treatments may make the pain more bearable. If the symptoms become severe, sometimes joint replacement is a possibility.
The second type of arthritis is inflammatory arthritis. The body's immune system reacts to get rid of infection by using inflammation. Sometimes, too much inflammation is produced, and joints are attacked. Eyes, internal organs and other parts of the body can be affected also. Rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis are types of inflammatory arthritis. Medical researchers believe that a combination of heredity and environmental factors may bring about the disease in people with specific genes. Smoking may contribute to rheumatoid arthritis.
Early diagnosis of the above two types of arthritis may slow or lessen the pain and progression of the disease. The goal of special drugs for these diseases is remission. Remission means the halting of the disease permanently or for a long period of time.
Organisms, like bacteria, fungi and viruses may get into the joints. These may cause swelling and pain. This type of arthritis is called infectious arthritis. Some examples are salmonella (food poisoning), gonorrhea and hepatitis C. Sometimes medication can clear away the infection. However, sometimes the condition remains.
The human body uses uric acid to break down part of the cells. If too much uric acid is produced, or the body cannot get rid of it very quickly, sharp crystals of uric acid form in the joints causing extreme pain. This type of arthritis is called metabolic arthritis. This condition can also be called gout. Gout has been found to be diet-related. Shellfish and red meats can make this condition worse. Beer and fructose, a sweetener found in soft drinks, can aggravate the condition.
A primary care physician can determine whether a patient is showing signs of some kind of arthritis. He may recommend that the patient see a rheumatologist who manages cases of inflammatory arthritis or more complicated cases. Orthopedic surgeons are involved in joint surgery. Other specialists are called upon if arthritis affects different parts of the body.
Some types of arthritis produce symptoms like fever, swollen glands, tiredness and weight loss. Arthritis can also affect the lungs, heart, and kidneys. A general feeling of allover sickness may occur. Children aged sixteen or younger can develop juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The body attacks its own cells and causes joint pain, redness, and swelling. The symptoms may last for weeks.
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