Arthritis is a general term for several chronic and painful joint disorders. It affects people in different ways, depending on the type. The two most common forms are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects about 1% of the population. People of any age can get it, but the condition most often strikes around the age of 30 to 50, affecting women 3 times as often as men. Rheumatoid arthritis is considered to be an autoimmune disorder because the body attacks its own joints, starting with the tissues that line and cushion them. This causes inflammation and, eventually, tissue damage and scarring as the cartilage, bone, and ligaments slowly erode.
This type of arthritis usually starts in the small joints of the hands and feet, then moves into other joints like the elbow, knees, shoulders, or hips. As the joints become inflamed, scar-like tissue forms, resulting in joint stiffness. As arthritis progresses, joints, especially those of the fingers and toes, may become bent and distorted.
Some of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:
- joint pain
- joint swelling, usually affecting the same areas on both sides of the body
- low-grade fever
- morning joint stiffness lasting at least one hour
- round, painless nodules (bumps) under the skin
- weight loss
Osteoarthritis is what usually comes to mind when we hear “arthritis,” as it’s the most common form. It has been called degenerative arthritis because it was thought to be the result of years of wear and tear, excess weight, or prior injuries to the joint. However, there is also an imbalance of cartilage breakdown and repair, resulting in joint pain. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, in which swelling occurs and scar tissue forms, osteoarthritis attacks the cartilage (the cushioning that acts as shock absorbers in the joint), resulting in pain as the bones rub against each other.
In the past, it was believed that an average amount of exercise could cause osteoarthritis. New research has shown that normal amounts of exercise are good for your joints. Talk to your doctor about how much exercise you should be getting and which types are best for you.
Osteoarthritis generally appears in men and women equally before the age of 55. After age 55, more women than men develop it. Most people over 65 have some form of this condition, but only a third actually experience symptoms.
Osteoarthritis generally affects the hands, knees, hips, and feet. It may show up in the spine as well; doctors think there may be a genetic link to arthritis in the spine, especially when it also develops in the hands.
Some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
- bumps or swelling of the fingers
- deep joint pain
- grating or cracking sounds from joint movement
- joint stiffness lasting less than 30 minutes, especially after resting or in the morning
Other, less common types of arthritis include:
- psoriatic arthritis, which affects people who have psoriasis
- gout, which generally occurs in men, resulting from a build-up of uric acid around certain joints, particularly the big toe
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