Arthritis comes in several forms, all painful

arthritis photoPhoto © AdobeStock

Arthritis usually involves pain, stiffness, and difficulty moving. While there are many different forms, most cause your joints to swell. That swelling can lead to serious damage over time. Some forms can even cause damage to other organs, like your skin or eyes.

The main types are:

  • Osteoarthritis: the most common form, which is usually due to aging or injury;
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: the most common form of autoimmune arthritis – when your body’s immune system is tricked into attacking itself;
  • Juvenile arthritis: occurs in children;
  • Infectious arthritis: when an infection from another body part has spread to the affected joint;
  • Psoriatic arthritis: affects psoriasis patients; and
  • Gout: a painful form of arthritis when too much uric acid accumulates; usually begins in the big toe.

Let’s look at the two major types – osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cushioning cartilage on the ends of the bones in the joint spaces deteriorates over time. Cartilage is usually a firm, slippery tissue and it allows the joint to have almost frictionless movement. When the cartilage wears down, the bone eventually rubs against itself.

Major symptoms develop over time and worsen gradually:

  • Pain;
  • Tenderness;
  • Stiffness;
  • Decreased flexibility;
  • Grating sensation when using the affected joint; and
  • Bone spurs around the affected joint.

There is no way to prevent osteoarthritis, but there are certain risk factors that may increase your likelihood of getting it. They include:

  • Older age;
  • Female sex;
  • Extra body weight;
  • Joint injuries (even from years ago);
  • Jobs placing repetitive stress on joints;
  • Genetics; and
  • Bone deformities.

Treatment

Treatment encompasses a variety of remedies:

  • Medications;
    • Over-the-counter oral pain relievers (i.e. Tylenol, Motrin, Advil, Aleve);
    • Natural products (i.e. Glucosamine and Chondroitin sulfate);
    • Over-the-counter topical pain relievers (i.e. Salonpas, Zostrix-HP);
  • Exercise and diet;
  • Physical therapy;
  • Acupuncture; and
  • Surgery.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs through a completely different process. Your immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the membrane surrounding your joints, eventually causing the tendons and ligaments of the joint to weaken and stretch. Over time, the joint becomes misshapen and loses its alignment. No one knows for sure what triggers this process, though it most likely has some sort of genetic component.

The symptoms usually affect smaller joints at first (fingers and toes) and typically affect the same joints on both sides of your body. As the arthritis worsens, other joints may become affected. Patients usually will experience times of increased disease activity (a.k.a. flares) alternating with periods of improvement (or relative remission). Symptoms may include:

  • Warm, swollen, and tender joints;
  • Joint stiffness that’s worse after inactivity and in the mornings; and
  • Fever, fatigue, and weight loss.

About 40 percent of patients also have symptoms that are nonjoint related, including:

  • Skin;
  • Eyes;
  • Lungs;
  • Heart;
  • Kidneys;
  • Salivary glands;
  • Nerve tissue;
  • Bone marrow; and
  • Blood vessels.

Just as with osteoarthritis patients, there are several risk factors that increase the probability of your developing rheumatoid arthritis. These include:

  • Female sex;
  • Age (generally 40 to 60 years);
  • Family history of rheumatoid arthritis;
  • Cigarette smoking;
  • Environmental exposures (i.e. asbestos, silica, etc.); and
  • Extra body weight.

Treatment

Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis are varied and include:

  • Medications;
  • Physical Therapy;
  • Lifestyle Modifications; and
    • Stop smoking;
    • Avoid excess alcohol;
  • Surgery.

About the Author

Julie Kaplan, Pharm. D.
Julie Kaplan is a licensed pharmacist in Virginia and the District of Columbia. She received a Bachelor’s of Arts in English from The College of William and Mary and a Doctor of Pharmacy from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has experience in patient communication from working as a retail pharmacist.