Arthritis Overview: Types, Symptoms, and Treatment

Tamera Jackson by Tamera Jackson | Licensed since 2007
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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According to the Arthritis Foundation, over 50 million Americans have some form of arthritis, and one in five adults suffers from this painful joint disease, making it the leading cause of disability in the United States. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with arthritis, here is some information to help you understand the condition.

What is arthritis?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis is not a single disease, but rather a term that refers to over 100 different conditions. Arthritis causes painful, stiff, and swollen joints; over time, it can lead to permanent joint damage and chronic, sometimes crippling, pain. More women are affected than men, and you are more likely to develop arthritis as you get older. There is no known cure, even for the most common types of arthritis, but with medical treatment, you can alleviate some of the symptoms and signs of arthritis.

What are the different types of arthritis?

As mentioned, there are over 100 different arthritic conditions, but some of the more common types of arthritis include:

  • Osteoarthritis. Also called degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis occurs when the slick, spongy cartilage tissue protecting the joints wears away, causing friction between the bones and leading to pain, swelling, and stiffness. Osteoarthritis usually develops over time and may be caused by overuse, joint stress, or injury. This is the most common type of arthritis in the United States.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is an inflammatory form of the disease that often affects small joints, such as the hands, wrists, fingers, elbows, feet, ankles, or knees. However, it can also affect the eyes, lungs, mouth, and other organs. This type of arthritis is caused by an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack its own healthy tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis often has periods of flare-ups followed by remission, although the most severe form is persistent and can last a lifetime.
  • Psoriatic arthritis. This type of arthritis only affects people with psoriasis, an autoimmune condition that causes itchy, scaly skin rashes. Psoriatis causes pain, stiffness, and swelling, and it can occur anywhere in the body. It is also marked by periods of remission and flares; about 30% of people with psoriasis with develop psoriatic arthritis.

What are the signs of arthritis?

There are many different types of arthritis, and each has a different set of unique signs and symptoms. However, nearly all types of arthritis are marked by these main signs of arthritis:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Swollen joints
  • Tenderness to touch around affected joints
  • Loss of flexibility and range of motion

When you visit your health-care provider for possible arthritis, you may be referred for different tests, including X-rays or other imaging tests and blood work, to help your doctor identify which type of arthritis you may have.

How can I prevent arthritis?

If you’re wondering how to prevent arthritis, unfortunately, there is no concrete way to prevent this condition. However, it may be possible to lower your risk and delay the onset of symptoms. Because there are so many different types of arthritis, each with different causes (some of which you cannot affect, such as genetics), you might focus on the lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your chances of developing symptoms.

Here are some ways you might lower your risk of developing arthritis:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight causes more wear and tear on your joints, exacerbating the onset and progression of osteoarthritis.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking is linked to rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Eat a healthy diet low in sugar, and avoid heavy alcohol consumption. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, olive oil, and fish with omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce inflammation and prevent cartilage damage.
  • Get regular exercise to help build up the muscles that support the weight-bearing joints (ankles, knees, hips, and spine).

I hope you now have a better understanding of what arthritis is, including the different types of arthritis and how you can reduce your risk of getting it. If you’d like more information about Medicare plan options to help manage arthritis, I’m happy to discuss your concerns. To get information via email or to schedule a telephone call at your convenience, click one of the links below. You can find out more about me by clicking the “View profile” button. You can also view plan options in your area by clicking the Compare Plans button.

For more information on arthritis:

Arthritis Foundation. “Understanding Arthritis.” http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Arthritis Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs),” last updated May 9, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/faqs.htm

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