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Facts About Arthritis

Arthritis Information You Need to Know

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Updated June 14, 2013

Is Arthritis a Single Disease?

Arthritis literally means joint inflammation. "Arth" refers to the joints, and "itis" refers to inflammation. Arthritis is not a single disease. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis affecting people of all ages, including about 300,000 children.

Warning Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis

The warning signs for arthritis include:

Pain
Swelling
Stiffness
Difficulty moving one or more joints

If the signs or symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, you should consult a doctor.

Most Common Form of Arthritis

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, sometimes referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis or degenerative joint disease. Osteoarthritis affects more than 20 million people in the United States. The primary form of osteoarthritis is usually related to aging, but osteoarthritis can also result from injury (athletes) or obesity.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Is an Autoimmune Disease

Rheumatoid arthritis is another common form of arthritis. It is an autoimmune disease and affects 1.3 million adults in the United States. In rheumatoid arthritis, a person's own immune system attacks cells within its own joint capsule. Chronic inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis destroys cartilage, bone, and ligaments, leading to possible deformity and disability. There can also be systemic effects associated with severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis.

There Is No Cure for Arthritis

Unfortunately, there is no cure for arthritis. There are various treatment options that can help with managing pain and reducing deformity and disability. Early diagnosis and an aggressive treatment plan are recognized as two very important factors in getting arthritis under control.

An Aggressive Treatment Plan - What's That?

Depending on your individual symptoms and examination, your doctor may decide to treat you aggressively and not conservatively. Treating conservatively involves prescribing only aspirin, Tylenol, or one of the older traditional NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

If your doctor wishes to treat you more aggressively, he may add methotrexate or Arava to your regimen. Methotrexate and Arava are among a class of drugs known as DMARDS (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs).

Beyond that, there is a class of drugs known as TNF blockers (biologics):

Prednisone is also a consideration when trying to stop an arthritic flare aggressively. More drugs are still in development. There are a myriad of arthritis treatments to try. Exercise programs, physical therapy, surgery, and other complementary treatments may become part of your treatment regimen.

How Arthritis Is Diagnosed

If you suspect you have arthritis, or if arthritic symptoms persist for more than 2 weeks, you should see a doctor. An examination will be performed in the doctor's office, and your medical history will be taken. After your consultation, the doctor will order appropriate laboratory tests and x-rays to confirm the diagnosis of arthritis. Basic tests will be ordered at first, and there may be more complicated tests ordered later on. The tests determine if you have abnormal signs of inflammation, joint damage or erosions.

Get a Referral to a Rheumatologist

Rheumatologists are medical doctors who specialize in arthritis and arthritis-related diseases. Rheumatologists are highly qualified diagnosticians and experts regarding treatment options for arthritis. Have your internist or primary doctor refer you to a rheumatologist.

Fast Statistics About Arthritis

  • 50 million (22%) of adults have self-reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis.
  • 67 million (25%) adults, 18 years or older, will have doctor-diagnosed arthritis by the year 2030.
  • 23.2 million live with chronic joint symptoms but are not doctor-diagnosed.
  • Arthritis or rheumatism remains the most common cause of disability.

Source:

Arthritis Data and Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 1, 2011.
http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics.htm

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