What is arthritis?
Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. It can affect one or more of your joints, and occurs in patients over 55, overweight, and/or with a history of osteoarthritis in the family. It may occur earlier in patients who have had a meniscectomy and/or ligament reconstructions. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, the most common types of which are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Symptoms generally include joint pain and stiffness which typically worsen with age. Other symptoms may include redness, warmth, swelling, and a decreased range of motion of the affected joints.
What are the causes?
Cartilage is a firm but flexible connective tissue in your joints. It protects the joints by absorbing the pressure and shock created when you move and put stress on them. A reduction in the normal amount of this cartilage tissue causes some forms of arthritis. Normal wear and tear cause osteoarthritis, and an infection or injury to the joints can exacerbate this. The risk of developing OA may be higher with a family history of the disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks the tissues of the body. These attacks affect the synovium, a soft tissue in your joints that produces a fluid that nourishes the cartilage and lubricates the joints. Generally, arthritis risk factors include:
- Older age
- Female gender
- Prior knee injury
- Certain occupations or sports that place high stress on the knees
- Abnormal joint alignment
How is it diagnosed?
A physician will perform a physical examination to check for fluid around the joints, warm or red joints, and limited range of motion in the joints. Imaging is often recommended such as x-rays or MRI. Extracting and analyzing inflammation levels in blood and joint fluids can also help the doctor to rule out other types of arthritis related to inflammatory or infectious conditions.
How is it treated?
Treatment may include resting the joint and alternating between applying ice and heat. Weight loss and physical therapy can be useful for some types of arthritis, and exercises can improve range of motion and strengthen the muscles surrounding joints. In some cases, splints or braces may be warranted. Recommended medications may depend on the form of arthritis, including pain medications such as anti-inflammatories or acetaminophen. In some circumstances surgery may be considered.
How can it be prevented?
Maintaining a healthy weight, controlling the blood sugar, regular exercise and stretching, and not smoking can all reduce the risk of arthritis.