There are over 100 different forms of arthritis. The most common form, osteoarthritis (degenerative joint disease), is a result of trauma to the joint, infection of the joint, or age. Other arthritis forms are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and related autoimmune diseases. Septic arthritis is caused by joint infection.
The major complaint by individuals who have arthritis is joint pain. Pain is often a constant and may be localized to the joint affected. The pain from arthritis is due to inflammation that occurs around the joint, damage to the joint from disease, daily wear and tear of joint, muscle strains caused by forceful movements against stiff, painful joints and fatigue.
Diagnosis is made by clinical examination from an appropriate health professional, and may be supported by other tests such as radiology and blood tests, depending on the type of suspected arthritis. All arthritides potentially feature pain. Pain patterns may differ depending on the arthritides and the location. Rheumatoid arthritis is generally worse in the morning and associated with stiffness; in the early stages, patients often have no symptoms after a morning shower. Osteoarthritis, on the other hand, tends to be worse after exercise. In the aged and children, pain might not be the main presenting feature; the aged patient simply moves less, the infantile patient refuses to use the affected limb.
Elements of the history of the disorder guide diagnosis. Important features are speed and time of onset, pattern of joint involvement, symmetry of symptoms, early morning stiffness, tenderness, gelling or locking with inactivity, aggravating and relieving factors, and other systemic symptoms. Physical examination may confirm the diagnosis, or may indicate systemic disease. Radiographs are often used to follow progression or help assess severity.
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It can affect both the larger and the smaller joints of the body, including the hands, feet, back, hip or knee. The disease is essentially one acquired from daily wear and tear of the joint; however, osteoarthritis can also occur as a result of injury. Osteoarthritis begins in the cartilage and eventually causes the two opposing bones to erode into each other. Initially, the condition starts with minor pain while walking but soon the pain can be continuous and even occur at night. The pain can be debilitating and prevent one from doing some activities. Osteoarthritis typically affects the weight bearing joints such as the back, spine, and pelvis. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis is most commonly a disease of the elderly. More than 30 per cent of females have some degree of osteoarthritis by age 65. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include: prior joint trauma, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Osteoarthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis, cannot be cured, but one can prevent the condition from worsening. Physical therapy to strengthen muscles and joints is very helpful. Pain medications are widely required by individuals with osteoarthritis. For some patients, weight loss can reduce the stress on the joints. When the disease is far advanced and the pain is continuous, surgery may be an option. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, joint replacement does help many individuals with osteoarthritis.
Signs and Symptoms
The main symptom is pain, causing loss of ability and often stiffness. "Pain" is generally described as a sharp ache, or a burning sensation in the associate muscles and tendons. OA can cause a crackling noise (called "crepitus") when the affected joint is moved or touched, and patients may experience muscle spasm and contractions in the tendons. Occasionally, the joints may also be filled with fluid. Humid and cold weather increases the pain in many patients.
OA commonly affects the hands, feet, spine, and the large weight bearing joints, such as the hips and knees, although in theory, any joint in the body can be affected. As OA progresses, the affected joints appear larger, are stiff and painful, and usually feel better with gentle use but worse with excessive or prolonged use, thus distinguishing it from rheumatoid arthritis.
In smaller joints, such as at the fingers, hard bony enlargements, called Heberden's nodes (on the distal interphalangeal joints) and/or Bouchard's nodes (on the proximal interphalangeal joints), may form, and though they are not necessarily painful, they do limit the movement of the fingers significantly. OA at the toes leads to the formation of bunions, rendering them red or swollen. Some people notice these physical changes before they experience any pain.
OA is the most common cause of joint effusion, sometimes called water on the knee in lay terms, an accumulation of excess fluid in or around the knee joint.
Bouchard's nodes and Heberden's nodes may form in osteoarthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a disorder in which the body's own immune system starts to attack body tissues. The attack is not only directed at the joint but to many other parts of the body. In rheumatoid arthritis, most damage occurs to the joint lining and cartilage which eventually results in erosion of two opposing bones. Rheumatoid arthritis often affects joints in the fingers, wrists, knees and elbows. The disease is symmetrical (appears on both sides of the body) and can lead to severe deformity in a few years if not treated. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs mostly in people aged 20 and above. In children, the disorder can present with a skin rash, fever, pain, disability, and limitations in daily activities. Often, it is not clear why the rheumatoid arthritis occurred. With earlier diagnosis and aggressive treatment, many individuals can lead a decent quality of life. The drugs to treat rheumatoid arthritis range from corticosteroids to monoclonal antibodies given intravenously. The latest drugs like Remicade can significantly improve quality of life in the short term. In rare cases, surgery may be required to replace joints but there is no cure for the illness
Hands affected by rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune form of arthritis