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Updated: Sep 27, 2021

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is based on the Greek word ‘arthron’ meaning joint and the Greek ending ‘itis’ meaning inflammation of. Arthritis is a degeneration of the cartilage of the joints without infection or inflammation. However, there are forms with an inflammatory component and many patients have sporadic flare-ups. This degeneration leads to a more or less rapid destruction of the cartilage that coats the end of the bones. Anatomically, this destruction is accompanied by bone proliferation under the cartilage.

Arthritis is a major source of pain, disability, and socioeconomic cost worldwide and is the most common joint disease. The first symptoms usually appear from the age of 40-50, but the disease often begins much earlier in life. To date there is no cure.

Type of arthritis

Arthritis is a broad term that describes over 100 different joint conditions. The most common types of arthritis include:

Osteoarthritis occurs when joints are overused and usually affects older people, but it can also affect people with joint injuries or weight problems. The joints that are the most susceptible to osteoporosis are the ones that bear weight, such as the knees, hips, feet, and spine. It is a loss of cartilage, which causes inflammation and makes movements painful.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system attacks parts of the body—especially the joints. No one is exactly sure what causes rheumatoid arthritis. Some believe the immune system can become “confused” after an infection or virus, while others think it is triggered by chemicals in the body. At any rate, this disease can come on gradually or suddenly, causing pain, stiffness, and swelling in multiple joints. The swelling can become so severe that simple, everyday activities, such as opening a jar, going for a walk, or driving a car become difficult or even impossible.

Ankylosing spondylitis, or arthritis of the spine (usually your lower back).

Gout is a disease that causes hard crystals of uric acid to form in your joints.

Juvenil idiopathic arthritis (JA), is a disorder where the immune system attacks the tissue around joints. JA typically affects children 16 years old or younger.

Psoriatic arthritis isa joint inflammation that develops in people with psoriasis (autoimmune disorder that causes skin irritation).

Reactive arthritis, formerly referred to as Reiter's syndrome, is a form of arthritis that affects the joints, eyes, urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body), and skin.

Septic arthritis, also known as infectious arthritis, is usually caused by bacteria. It can also be caused by a virus or fungus. The condition is an inflammation of a joint that's caused by infection. Typically, septic arthritis affects one large joint in the body, such as the knee or hip. Less frequently, septic arthritis can affect multiple joints.

Thumb arthritis is the most common form of arthritis that affects the hands.

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Arthritis symptoms can range from mild to severe. Most people with arthritis experience chronic pain, fatigue, restricted mobility, lowered mood and other symptoms that can combine to erode their quality of life.

Many forms of arthritis can lead to episodic disability, leaving people unable to work for periods of time due to their disease.

The main symptoms are:

  • Joint aching and soreness, particularly triggered and aggravated by movement

  • Joint swelling

  • Pain after overuse or after long periods of inactivity

  • Stiffness after periods of rest

  • Bone enlargements in the middle and end joints of the fingers (which may or may not be painful).

Causes and risk factors for arthritis

The main suspected risk factors are:

Non-modifiable risk factors

  • Age - the risk of developing most types of arthritis increases with age.

  • Gender - most types of arthritis are more common in women; nearly 60% of all people with arthritis are women. Ankylosing spondylitis and gout are more common in men.

  • Genetic -Specific genes are associated with a higher risk of certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and ankylosing spondylitis.

Modifiable risk factors

  • Overweight and obesity -excess weight can contribute to both the onset and progression of knee and hip osteoarthritis.

  • Physical inactivity is associated with increased severity and progression of many types of arthritis.

  • Joint injuries - damage to a joint can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in that joint.

  • Smoking -is linked to the progression and severity of rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Infection - many microbial agents can infect joints and potentially cause the development of various forms of arthritis.

  • Occupation -certain occupations involving repetitive knee bending and squatting are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee and hip.

  • Diet plays an important role in healthy weight maintenance, which is a key factor in the prevention/reduction of disease progression. It is also an identified risk factor for the development and management of gout.

If you think you have arthritis, please contact your healthcare professional for advice and treatment.


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