Do you suffer with stiff and painful joints that are sometimes warm to the touch and swollen? What you’re experiencing may be arthritis, a condition that affects the bones, cartilage and connective tissue in the joints.
Arthritis describes more than 100 conditions that impact the joints, according the Arthritis Foundation. Between 2013 and 2015, approximately 54 million people in the United States were told they had some form of arthritis—about 1 in 4 people. It is the major cause of disability in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Types of Arthritis
The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is a condition that develop slowly and becomes worse over time. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage that protects the ends of the bones wears away.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis can include:
- Pain in the joints
- Loss of mobility and flexibility
- Grinding sensation when the joint moves
- Bone spurs – small fragments of bone
Age, obesity, and gender are all factors that can contribute to osteoarthritis. The risk for the condition increases with advancing age. Women tend to develop it more than men and certain jobs where repetitive motions are used are also a factor. Genetics can also play a role.
While osteoarthritis is caused in part by how the joint functions, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder which causes the body’s own defense to attack the tissues.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Tender joints that are warm to the touch
- Joint stiffness
At times, the symptoms may lessen or disappear entirely, only to re-emerge in painful flair ups. Some rheumatoid arthritis sufferers may experience symptoms that don’t involve their joints but instead may affect their eyes (dry eye), skin where nodules or rashes may appear, or lungs where there may be scarring that causes a dry cough and shortness of breath.
How is Arthritis Diagnosed?
Because different types of arthritis can affect you, your doctor will consider the symptoms you are experiencing to distinguish which form is effecting you. In addition to a physical examination, your doctor may require tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or blood tests to make a diagnosis.
An elevated blood level called C-reactive protein (CRP) may indicate an inflammatory process going on in the body. Another blood test called an erythrocyte sedimentation rate can also help identify inflammation.
X-rays or an MRI allows your health professional to see exactly which joints are affected and how extensively.
Currently no cure exists for arthritis, but treatment and lifestyle changes can help you manage the condition.
Your physician may recommend an over-the-counter or prescription medication to help relieve arthritic pain and discomfort. Those include:
- Analgesics such as Tylenol®
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®)
- Topical creams such as Oxyrub® or Icy Hot® that help block pain signals
- Steroids such as prednisone
- Ice or cold packs to reduce inflammation
Exercise and/or physical therapy may be recommended to help with flexibility and mobility. And losing weight can reduce the stress on compromised joints.
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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention