Introduction to Arthritis
Let’s start with some facts about arthritis, courtesy of the Arthritis Foundation. Did you know that:
- Over 50 million adults possess a physician-diagnosed type of arthritis.
- 1 out of every 250 infants and children have either arthritis or another rheumatic condition.
- The number of individuals expected to be diagnosed with arthritis by the year 2030 is 67 million.
- Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in the United States, costing an average of $150 billion annually in lost wages and medical expenses.
- Arthritis affects individuals of all ages, genders, and races – for instance, 2/3 of the individuals diagnosed with arthritis are under the age of 65.
So, what, exactly, is arthritis?
Well, to start with, arthritis isn’t just a singular disease – in fact, the term “arthritis” is more of a catch-all term to describe joint pain and/or disease. In actuality, there are over 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions, including: psoriatic arthritis; rheumatoid arthritis; and osteoarthritis, to name a few.
What are the symptoms of arthritis?
Some of the most common symptoms of arthritis are joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and decreased range of motion. These symptoms can be constant or they can come and go, and can range in severity from mild to debilitating. Severe arthritis can cause chronic pain and make it extremely difficult to go about day to day activities, such as walking up stairs or buttoning a shirt. Arthritis can also cause permanent changes to joints – some of which can be seen only via x-ray and others that are clearly visible to the naked eye (like knobby joints). It should also be noted that some types of arthritis can affect your skin, heart, eyes, kidneys, and lungs, too.
What are the different types of arthritis?
As stated previously, there are over 100 different types of arthritis that are currently known. Some of the most common are:
Degenerative arthritis – also known as osteoarthritis – is the most common type of arthritis. This form of arthritis occurs when the cartilage that protects and cushions the ends of bones wears away, creating bone-to-bone contact which, in turn, causes pain, stiffness, and swelling. Over time, joints can become weak and the pain can become chronic. For mild to moderate forms of osteoarthritis, symptoms can be managed via a variety of non-invasive treatments (such as physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, muscle strengthening, and maintaining a healthy weight). Severe forms of degenerative arthritis may eventually require joint replacement to help decrease pain and increase quality of life.
Inflammatory Arthritis – Types of inflammatory arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis and are autoimmune in nature. This means that an individuals’ immune system – which typically serves to rid the body of infection and prevent disease – begins attacking the joints with uncontrolled inflammation that can cause joint erosion as well as damage to internal organs, eyes, and other parts of the body. At this point in time, it’s felt that a combination of both genetics and environmental factors can trigger an autoimmune response such as this – for instance, smoking would be an environmental risk factor that can trigger rheumatoid arthritis in individuals with certain gene characteristics.
When it comes to autoimmune and inflammatory types of arthritis, early diagnosis and treatment (which is often aggressive) is crucial. That’s because slowing the disease can help to minimize – or, in some cases, even prevent – joint damage. Remission is achievable for some via the use of disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs. Regardless of whether or not remission is achieved, the goal of treatment is to reduce pain, improve function and quality of life, and prevent further joint damage.
Other types of arthritis include infectious arthritis (caused by a bacteria, fungus, or virus entering a joint and causing inflammation) and metabolic arthritis (such as gout). If infectious arthritis is caught early, it can usually be treated with antibiotics in an effort to rid the joint of infection; however, sometimes the arthritis becomes chronic. Gout is caused by the excessive build-up of uric acid crystals within a joint, causing sudden bouts of extreme joint pain.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
Primary care physicians tend to be the first line of defense when it comes to diagnosing arthritis. A physical exam – in conjunction with blood work and imaging studies – can often help determine the type of arthritis. If the diagnosis is at all uncertain or is felt to be inflammatory in nature, a rheumatologist may be next on the list of specialists that one will visit. Orthopaedic surgeons help with joint care, physical therapy and, if necessary, joint replacement.
Here at Nebraska Orthopaedic Center, arthritis is something that we deal with on a daily basis – some of us personally, as well as professionally. We’re committed to helping our patients preserve joint function as well as quality of life. There are a variety of treatments out there – including physical therapy to joint replacement – that the providers and therapists here in our office can help you with. So, if joint pain is something that you’re struggling with, please don’t hesitate to give us a call – we’re here to help!