Arthritis

Definition

Arthritis is inflammation of one or more joints. A joint is the area where two bones meet. There are over 100 different types of arthritis.

Causes

Arthritis involves the breakdown of cartilage. Normal cartilage protects a joint and allows it to move smoothly. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, such as when you walk. Without the normal amount of cartilage, the bones rub together. This causes, swelling (inflammation), and stiffness.

Joint inflammation may result from:

In most cases, the joint inflammation goes away after the cause goes away or is treated. Sometimes it does not. When this happens, you have chronic arthritis. Arthritis may occur in men or women. Osteoarthritis is the most common type.

Other, more common types of arthritis include:

Symptoms

Arthritis causes joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited movement. Symptoms can include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history.

The physical exam may show:

Some types of arthritis may cause joint deformity. This may be a sign of severe, untreated rheumatoid arthritis.

Blood tests and joint x-rays are often done to check for infection and other causes of arthritis.

Your doctor may also remove a sample of joint fluid with a needle and send it to a lab to be checked.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function, and prevent further joint damage. The underlying cause often cannot be cured.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES

Lifestyle changes are the preferred treatment for osteoarthritis and other types of joint swelling. Exercise can help relieve stiffness, reduce pain and fatigue, and improve muscle and bone strength. Your health care team can help you design an exercise program that is best for you.

Exercise programs may include:

Your health care provider may suggest physical therapy. This might include:

Other things you can do include:

MEDICINES

Medicines may be prescribed along with lifestyle changes. All medicines have some risks. You should be closely followed by a doctor when taking arthritis medicines.

Over-the-counter medicines:

Prescription medicines:

It is very important to take your medicines as directed by your doctor. If you are having problems doing so (for example, because of side effects), you should talk to your doctor. Also make sure your doctor knows about all the medicines you are taking, including vitamins and supplements bought without a prescription.

SURGERY AND OTHER TREATMENTS

In some cases, surgery may be done if other treatments have not worked. This may include:

Outlook (Prognosis)

A few arthritis-related disorders can be completely cured with proper treatment.

Most forms of arthritis however are long-term (chronic) conditions.

Possible Complications

Complications of arthritis include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if:

Prevention

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent joint damage. If you have a family history of arthritis, tell your doctor, even if you do not have joint pain.

Avoiding excessive, repeated motions may help protect you against osteoarthritis.


Review Date: 1/22/2014
Reviewed By: Gordon A. Starkebaum, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.