Arthritis is a general term used to define joint disease characterized by symptoms such as swelling, pain, stiffness and reduced mobility. Arthritis generally affects the joints of the hands, feet, knees and hips, but it comes in many forms. There are different types of arthritis, three of the most common forms being rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and gout. The disease typically causes irreversible joint damage, bone erosion, bone deformities, loss of flexibility, limited movement, disabling pain and other complications.
What is arthritis? By definition, arthritis refers to inflammatory diseases that affect the joints. It is a general name for a number of rheumatic disorders, or diseases of the joints and connective tissues. The leading cause of joint pain and loss of mobility in all arthritis sufferers is inflammation. In osteoarthritis, mechanical wear of cartilage in joints and bone erosion are what cause swelling and pain. In rheumatoid arthritis, the cause for joint pain and stiffness is an overactive immune system that attacks the body and generates inflammation. In gout, it’s excess uric acid in the blood, which causes crystals to form in joint cartilages and other areas of the body.
Arthritis types. Arthritis denominates any of a number of joint diseases characterized primarily by swelling and pain. The different types of arthritis can be classified according to what causes the disease in the first place and whether or not there are other existing conditions or disorders that predispose one to inflammatory responses and joint or connective tissue problems. As a result, arthritis can be a primary disease or occur secondary to other medical conditions. This being said, below are the most common 7 types of arthritis:
1) Osteoarthritis: caused by the natural or forced wear and tear of joint cartilage, causing bones to rub against each other.
2) Rheumatoid arthritis: occurs when the immune system attacks healthy connective tissues in the body, such as joint cartilage, but also the skin, heart, lungs etc.
3) Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis: is an autoimmune form of arthritis that affects individuals younger than 16.
4) Still’s disease: is an autoimmune form of arthritis in adults that presents itself with symptoms such as joint pain and stiffness, fever, skin rash etc.
5) Gout: occurs when excess uric acid in the body leads to the formation of crystals inside joints, causing joint pain and stiffness, swelling, redness and a warmth sensation.
6) Infectious arthritis: also called septic arthritis, it is primarily caused by bacterial infections of a joint.
7) Ankylosing spondylitis: is a type of arthritis of the spine and can affect the lower back, hips or shoulders.
What causes arthritis?
Although all arthritis types affect the joints and connective tissue producing symptoms such as inflammation and joint pain with loss of mobility, different forms of the disease have different causes. Here is what arthritis is caused by:
1) Joint damage. Any form of injury, mechanical stress or simply the wear of time, especially occupational, can cause the loss of cartilage and arthritis. Example: osteoarthritis.
2) Autoimmunity. When a person’s own immune system attacks healthy tissues, particularly the connective tissue in joints, it causes arthritis. Example: rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
3) Metabolic causes. Excess levels of uric acid, a natural by-product of human metabolism, can cause a form of metabolic arthritis called gout. Some people produce more uric acid than others, while for some the body cannot properly dispose of it.
4) Infection. Bacterial infections of the joints cause inflammation and can lead to arthritis pain and other symptoms. Example: infectious arthritis.
5) Genetics. A genetic predisposition towards inflammation or inflammatory conditions, joint or bone disorders and other hereditary factors and conditions can cause the onset of different forms of arthritis.
6) Excess weight. Being overweight or obese puts too much pressure on joints, causing the cartilage to wear faster.
7) Other diseases. Arthritis can occur secondary to diseases such as mixed connective tissue disease like lupus, psoriasis, vasculitis, Familial Mediterranean Fever, Lyme disease, hepatitis etc.
Arthritis signs and symptoms
What are the signs and symptoms you have arthritis? Arthritis can be difficult to diagnose based on symptoms alone because its symptoms are not unique and many other conditions and diseases may share the same symptoms. However, here is how you know if you may have arthritis:
1) Pain in fingers, wrists, hips, back, shoulder, knees, feet, but not limited to these areas.
Pain can be mild or debilitating, temporary or continual, isolated or spread to multiple joints, often mirroring joints.
2) Muscle aches, burning sensation in muscles, muscle stiffness and spasms, tenderness.
3) Swelling, often with redness. It causes the area to feel warm or hot.
4) Loss of flexibility, stiffness in the morning, after resting, sitting or physical activity.
5) Reduced range of movement and reduced mobility, joint locking.
Causes trouble using hands, loss of dexterity, walking problems, posture problems, getting stuck sitting because of locked joints etc.
6) Bone deformities: nodules (Heberden’s nodes).
7) Chills and fever with joint and muscle pain in infectious arthritis.
8) Skin symptoms: redness, spots, psoriasis, rashes etc.
9) Tingling or numbness in hands, feet, legs.
10) Tiredness, fatigue.
11) Sleeping problems or other symptoms of conditions occurring together with arthritis.
How does arthritis pain feel like? Arthritis pain feels different for everyone and is determined by the type of disease, gradual or abrupt onset, symptoms and the pattern of evolution of the disease. Thus, arthritis pain can feel like joint tenderness, aches, sharp pain (indicating infection), throbbing or pulsating pain, dull pain, warmth sensation in joints, burning or grinding pain.
What makes arthritis worse? Being a form of rheumatic disease, arthritis usually gets worse during humid weather. Often, sufferers experience a dull, aching or pulsating pain days or hours before it rains, during winter, after taking a bath. Women are more likely to get arthritis and the reasons for this are hormonal differences, hormone imbalances, higher risk of osteoporosis etc. Getting older also increases the risk of the disease. A diet rich in processed foods is a risk factor as well, especially for gout. Smoking generates inflammation and alters the normal immune system response, promoting joint inflammation.
Arthritis and vitamins. There could be a connection between different types of arthritis and vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It has been theorized that a vitamin D deficiency could potentially increase the risk for the disease, due to the vitamin’s role in preserving bone health and supporting the immune system function.
Treatment, remedies and solutions
Arthritis cannot be treated, but symptoms can be alleviated to provide a better quality of life. Here are 7 useful advice to consider for arthritis management:
1) Anti-inflammatory medication, rheumatism creams to reduce swelling and manage pain.
2) Physical therapy, exercises focused on preserving normal joint function, water exercises, massage.
3) Staying physically active, avoiding sedentarism.
4) A good diet, rich in anti-inflammatory foods for arthritis.
5) Avoiding smoking, coffee, alcohol, sugary, carbonated beverages (sodas).
6) Weight loss: any excess weight puts more strain on the joints.
7) Surgery to replace joints. Go to the doctor and stay informed about your condition, its evolution and therapies available.
Other tips on how to better deal with arthritis include:
1) Avoid sitting, standing or lying in bed for too long. Take breaks to prevent joint locking.
2) Use devices to support movement and balance and assist you in your daily activities.
3) Take vitamins for good immunity and bone health (vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, calcium, Omega-3 etc).
4) Use an infrared lamp to manage pain and reduce swelling (read more about the benefits of the infrared lamp).
Sun exposure may help improve symptoms.
5) Use cold and hot packs to manage pain and inflammation.
6) Essential oils for massaging the affected area can provide pain relief.
7) Eat fresh, natural, balanced and avoid anything processed.
Consider excluding gluten, refined sugar and salt from your diet.
What arthritis does is affect normal joint function, reducing flexibility and range of motion and causing pain, swelling of the affected area, stiffness and difficulty moving. If the arthritis is autoimmune, then inflammation is generalized and often affects other organs in addition to the joints, such as the lungs, heart, skin, eyes, blood vessels etc. While there isn’t a treatment to cure arthritis completely, improving diet, exercising to preserve mobility through physical therapy and taking anti-inflammatory medication can improve symptoms, reduce the severity of the disease and significantly improve life quality.