What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is defined as any condition that results in inflammation of your joints and connective tissue. There are over 100 different disorders that fall under this category. (1)
Although it can affect people of any age, it is more typical in the elderly. Some types of arthritis can also affect your internal organs. (2)
Arthritis and related ailments are considered a significant threat to healthy aging worldwide. (3)
Depending on what form of arthritis you have, the symptoms may vary. Generally, arthritis causes pain and can impact upon movement due to inflammation. (4)
Arthritic disorders affect the musculoskeletal system, your muscles and bones. It also consists of connective tissue: ligaments, cartilage, tendons, and joints. (5)
There are many disorders within the umbrella term of arthritis. These can be classified as: degenerative, inflammatory, infectious, and metabolic. (6)
The telltale warning symptoms of arthritis include:
Fatigue is the sensation of feeling tired or worn out. It can affect you both physically and mentally.
Chronic or severe fatigue can be a manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis. Categorized as inflammatory arthritis, it is a result of the immune system attacking the joints. (7,8)
Fatigue caused by arthritis is usually due to dealing with pain and disturbed sleep. It’s also a classic sign of autoimmune disorders, including inflammatory arthritis. (9,10)
Joint Swelling, Stiffness and Pain
The key trait of arthritic conditions is that they target the joints. Symptoms can slowly worsen or appear suddenly depending on the condition.
Arthritis can cause mild to severe joint pain. It can target your knees, hips, back and elbows. Smaller joints found in your wrists, ankles, feet and fingers are susceptible too.
Sore, stiff joints in the morning after a night’s rest are a potential sign of osteoarthritis.
If your feet and hands are afflicted, your toes, ankles and fingers can begin to swell. You may also notice clicking or cracking noises when you move. (11)
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause tender, stiff or swollen joints. A telltale signal is if the discomfort lasts for more than 6 weeks.
This variation of arthritis tends to manifest in more than one joint. Pain can target the same joints – for example, both wrists – on each side of your body. (12)
Gout can cause small crystals of uric acid to build inside the joints. It can cause extreme pain, usually accompanied by rapid swelling. Affected areas are so sensitive that any contact can be excruciating. (13)
The pain and inflammation arthritis causes can limit your mobility. Movements like stretching or kneeling can become extremely uncomfortable.
If the joint deterioration worsens, discomfort is likely to increase. In the case of osteoarthritis, joints can wear away until your bones rub against each other. (14)
As there are many variations of arthritis, we will cover the stages of two of the most pervasive types.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative, chronic disease without a cure. It wears down the structure of your joints over time, hampering function.
As the osteoarthritis progresses, you can develop bone spurs. These are growths of bone that occur when cartilage is damaged. (15)
Rheumatoid arthritis is inflammatory: the immune system attacks the joints. Just like osteoarthritis, it is progressive. (16)
At this stage, your musculoskeletal system is in working order. Your joints are entirely free from arthritis of any sort.
Rheumatoid arthritis begins to inflame the outer layer of the joints and synovial tissue. This is the tissue lining the capsules of your joints.
You will likely experience pain, stiffness and swelling in affected areas. (17)
With osteoarthritis, the joints will also suffer mild inflammation. In turn, this can cause the start of bony spur growth.
By this stage of rheumatoid arthritis, cartilage damage will start to occur. Difficulty with mobility and range of motion can happen more frequently. (18)
Osteoarthritis at this stage leads to moderately severe subchondral sclerosis. This condition affects the bones underneath the cartilage. (19)
This stage is associated with higher and more frequent joint pain. (20)
The rheumatoid arthritis has reached a serious level. Bone as well as cartilage is being destroyed.
Symptoms such as pain and stiffness are more intense. The joints may begin to appear deformed. Muscle strength and mobility is significantly reduced. (21)
Subchondral sclerosis in osteoarthritis patients is extensive by stage 3. The affected joints are diminished, meaning your bones are closer to grinding together.
Bone spurs are also substantial. Intense pain can result in loss of movement, and swelling can occur. (22)
Inflammation stops completely at this stage of rheumatoid arthritis. Loss of mobility is dramatic, with accompanying swelling and pain. (23)
By stage 4, osteoarthritis has entirely destroyed the afflicted joints. This means there is nothing to prevent your bones grating against one another.
Pain, stiffness and swelling are extreme, as is loss of mobility. (24)
The treatment methods for arthritis can vary based on the classification and severity. Managing the painful symptoms is a key element.
If you are diagnosed with an arthritic condition, it is important to start treatment quickly. The priority is to minimize and if possible, stop damage from getting worse.
Healthy lifestyle practices can be beneficial to anyone. Obesity is one of the risk factors of developing osteoarthritis.
Extra weight can put more pressure on joints which are already weakened. Losing weight is associated with improved movement and pain relief in arthritic patients. (25)
Physical therapy aims to improve the strength and mobility of your joints. A physical therapist will teach you exercises and other techniques to manage your arthritis.
You might learn how to use helpful devices like canes, braces and heat pads. Your therapist will help you work to achieve personal goals.
These may range from improving mobility to pain management strategies. (26)
Analgesics are pain-relieving drugs. They are generally used by individuals with chronic, painful conditions like arthritis.
Strength can range from mild painkillers like tylenol to heavy opioids that are prescription only.
Prescription analgesics can be useful in managing and reducing pain. However, these drugs do carry a risk of side effects and potential addiction. (27)
Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)
These anti inflammatory forms of medication are used to alleviate inflammation and stiffness. By doing so, they can help reduce pain. They can be taken orally or applied as an ointment.
NSAIDs are available in different strengths depending on your case. Some are intended for short term use to quickly relieve inflammation.
Other types can be prescribed by your doctor for long term use. These drugs are usually a part of most arthritis treatment plans. (28)
Corticosteroids are a type of steroid that lowers inflammation. They can be injected, taken orally, or applied as a cream.
These drugs have immunosuppressive properties. This means they can help to suppress immune system activity, which is helpful for inflammatory arthritis.
They are more potent than non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs. Corticosteroids can control the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and osteoarthritis. (29)
There are many types of joint surgery available for arthritis patients. Surgeries can help people with severe arthritis or improve symptoms in moderate cases.
Destroyed joints can be replaced with artificial prosthetics. Other procedures, like a synovectomy, can relieve pain and improve mobility.
Any surgery has risks as well as benefits. Your doctor will discuss potential outcomes with you. (30)
What is arthritis? Arthritis is any disorder that affects your musculoskeletal system. This means your muscles, joints, and connective tissue.
What are the signs of arthritis? Symptoms of arthritis can include: inflammation of the joints, limited or painful movement and fatigue.
How do you develop arthritis? Each type of arthritis develops differently. Arthritis can be caused by faulty immune system response, infectious diseases, gout, or degeneration of connective tissue.
What is the best treatment for arthritis? Ideal treatment depends on the type and severity of your arthritis. Based on your individual case, doctors may recommend physical therapy, medications to manage pain and inflammation, or surgery.
What are the long term complications of arthritis? Progressive, chronic forms of arthritis can result in reduced quality of life due to pain and loss of movement and bodily function. (31)
Is arthritis considered a disability? Depending on the severity of your arthritis, you may still be deemed able to work a job that isn’t physically demanding. If your arthritis causes extreme swelling, pain and limited mobility, you can qualify for disability. (32)
Is there any cure for arthritis? Infectious arthritis caused by diseases can be cured when the disease is treated. Gout attacks, or metabolic arthritis, can be avoided by reducing uric acid levels. Degenerative and inflammatory arthritis can be managed with treatment, but not eradicated completely. (33)
Is arthritis life threatening? Some forms of arthritis can result in life threatening complications. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause amyloidosis, which can be fatal if untreated. Septic arthritis, an infection of your joints can cause septic shock and lead to death. (34,35)
Arthritic disorders can be debilitating to live with. Although these diseases are usually chronic, treatment plans exist to help relieve symptoms.
If you suspect you may have arthritis, seek medical advice. An early diagnosis can change how arthritis progresses.
The progression of rheumatoid arthritis can be changed entirely if it is caught early. Similarly, disability caused by osteoarthritis can be reduced with prompt intervention. (36,37)