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Arthritis: Its mission is to destroy joints

Arthritis is a joint disease

Arthritis is the No. 1 cause of long-term disability in the United States. Most people aren’t aware of that fact. It is estimated that a broad range of unique types of arthritis conditions affect 53 million adults and 300,000 children of all ages, sexes and races in the United States alone. Women are more likely to have arthritis, especially as they age.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, the single term, “arthritis,” actually refers to many different types of joint diseases – more than 100 classifications and conditions – that can attack any one or more of the 360 joints in the human body.

Types of arthritis

A few of the more common conditions we hear about that fall under the arthritis banner – such as bursitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, gout, inflammatory arthritis, lupus, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and tendinitis – share symptoms of swelling, pain, stiffness and decreased range of motion. These and other multiple forms of arthritis can be broken down into different groups of arthritis:

Degenerative arthritis, or osteoarthritis, which is the most common arthritis causing bone cartilage to wear away, leaving bone-on-bone contact and bringing pain, swelling and stiffness.

Inflammatory arthritis, which is affected by an unhealthy immune system, can lead to rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

Infectious arthritis, caused by a bacterium, virus or fungus that allow organisms to infect the joints, triggering inflammation.

Metabolic arthritis, involves the body’s formation of uric acid. Gout is a common result when high levels of excess uric acid remain in the body for too long before excretion.


Arthritis isn’t always easy to diagnose and the symptoms vary. It doesn’t always start with joint pain, stiffness, swelling and inflammation. It can also attack the immune system with symptoms of fatigue or a rash. But it is important to discuss any joint issues with your doctor early on in order to protect your joints from causing potential lifelong pain and perhaps even permanent joint or internal damage.

The Arthritis Foundation encourages anyone who thinks they may have an arthritic condition to see a doctor and start treatment as soon as possible to avoid serious joint damage.

In most cases, pain and discomfort may lead you to an appointment with your primary care physician. Once your physician suspects you have developed an arthritic condition, he or she may send you to a rheumatologist for further diagnosis and treatment. When joints become eroded due to arthritis, orthopedic surgeons can perform joint surgery and joint replacement. Depending on the specific disease, other parts of the body may be affected and require the care of other specialists.


Unfortunately, most cases of arthritis can’t be prevented, especially if you have a family history of arthritis. That said there are many things you can do to preserve your joint function and delay the onset of certain types of arthritis.

Once you know what type of arthritis you have, learn all you can about your specific disease and take steps to modify behaviors that may make your condition worse. For example if you suffer from gout follow a more healthful diet and be mindful of alcohol and sugar.

If you are overweight, many will benefit from attaining a healthier weight. Athletes may be able to help reduce the risk of injuries that could lead to arthritis later on in life by limiting playing risks, using the correct equipment and training appropriately for your sport.

Treatment options

Many doctors support early, aggressive treatment. There is a list of reliable drugs on the market that treat different types of arthritis and pain and new drugs are being developed as well. We all are familiar with the many commercials on TV promoting relief from the newest available arthritis drug. Your doctor will prescribe the drug(s) that will most benefit your particular condition.

Your doctor also may prescribe treatment on the more physical side in the form of exercise in order to gain better mobility. Physical activity such as walking also helps to build joint muscles. Advice about diet and nutrition may be suggested as well.


Access the Arthritis Foundation website to find tools and other resources to help you cope with dealing with arthritis. You’ll find an online community who will offer tips and additional resources, and other support groups to join. You can become a volunteer to help others living with arthritis. There’s also an arthritis help line to ask questions and seek additional information.

More information

For more detailed information about arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation at www.arthritis.org


By Holly Harmon for Puget Sound Orthopaedics


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