Arthritis is a group of conditions involving damage to the joints of the body, and it is the leading cause of disability in people older than fifty-five. There are many different types of arthritis and each one has a different cause. Osteoarthritis, for example, which is also known as degenerative joint disease, is a result of trauma to the joint, infection of the joint, or is sometimes due simply to the aging process. Emerging evidence suggests that abnormal anatomy might contribute to the early development of osteoarthritis.
Common Forms of Arthritis
Two of the most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. In addition, there are many conditions (e.g., psoriasis, hepatitis, inflammatory bowel disease and lupus) that can mimic arthritis, so it is essential to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor. Other forms of arthritis include autoimmune diseases in which the body attacks itself, septic arthritis caused by joint infection, and gouty arthritis caused by deposition of uric acid crystals in the joint resulting in inflammation.
History & Physical Examination of Arthritis
No matter what form of arthritis one has, pain is a major symptom as a result of—and sometimes contributing to—poor function in the affected joint(s). Pain patterns in the joints may differ depending on the type of arthritis and its location within the body. Joint symptoms in rheumatoid arthritis, for example, are generally worse in the morning and are associated with stiffness. It is not unusual for reduced movement to be the most significant symptom of rheumatoid arthritis in the elderly, with pain as a secondary symptom.
For a proper diagnosis of arthritis, your doctor must consider your personal symptom history, including the following features: speed and time of the disease onset; pattern of joint involvement; whether joints are involved symmetrically; whether there is early morning stiffness; whether there is tenderness or gelling or locking of the joints with inactivity; aggravating and relieving factors; and other symptoms not involving the joints. Physical examination may confirm the diagnosis of arthritis or may indicate a causative disease. Radiographs are often used to follow progression or assess severity in a more quantitative manner.
Blood tests and X-rays of the affected joints often are performed to make the diagnosis. Screening blood tests are indicated if certain types of arthritis are suspected. These might include rheumatoid factor in rheumatoid arthritis, antinuclear factor (ANF) in autoimmune arthritis, and/or uric acid in gout, for example. Tests for active inflammation are also helpful in forms of arthritis other than osteoarthritis, which has no particular blood tests for diagnosis.
Treatment Overview for Arthritis
Treatment options vary depending on the type of arthritis you have, and include physical therapy and occupational therapy, lifestyle changes such as exercise and weight control, medications, acupuncture and dietary supplements (symptomatic or targeted at the disease process causing the arthritis). Arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery) may be required in the most destructive forms of arthritis.
In general, studies have shown that physical exercising of the affected joint may noticeably improve the long-term pain pattern. Exercising of the arthritic joint is also encouraged to maintain joint health and overall well-being. Other forms of therapy consist of topical salves, temperature alteration of the affected joints and nutrition in inflammatory arthritis. In addition to drugs, physical therapy, mud applications, yoga and acupuncture can help with functional improvement.