Arthritis refers to joint inflammation. It can be caused by more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, joint tissue, and other connective tissues. An estimated 22% of adults or about 50 million people ages 18 or older in the United States have a self-reported, doctor-diagnosed form of arthritis. Incidence of arthritis increases with age and affects woman more often than men.
The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is considered a degenerative joint disease which results from wear and tear. As it is a degenerative condition the risk increases with age and lifestyle (i.e. joint injury, obesity, and repetitive use of the joint). The first signs of osteoarthritis include joint pain, tenderness or swelling; and decreased joint function. The joints most affected are the knees, hips, hands, and spine. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which occurs when the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks the cell lining inside the joint or the synovium. The first signs of the disease are similar to osteoarthritis and also include joint stiffness. If left undiagnosed or untreated, many types of arthritis can cause irreversible damage to the joints, bones, organs, and skin.
While primarily thought of as an “old persons” disease, arthritis can affect individuals of any age, including children. Juvenile arthritis is a general term for all types of arthritis that occur in children, 16 years old or younger. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is the most prevalent type of arthritis in children. There are three major types of JRA: polyarticular (affecting many joints), pauciarticular (pertaining to only a few joints), and systemic (affecting the entire body). Signs and symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis vary from child to child. No single test can conclusively establish a diagnosis. Juvenile arthritis must be present consistently for six or more consecutive weeks before a correct diagnosis can be made.
Since arthritis can cause irreversible damage to the joints, bones, organs, and skin it is important to consult with a medical specialist for diagnosis and treatment options. If caught early damage can be minimized or avoided. Treatment options can include
- diet and lifestyle change (i.e. getting plenty of rest, eating a healthy diet and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids);
- over-the-counter medications (OTCs) such as Tylenol and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen;
- prescription medications such as the biologics Enbrel, Remicade, or Humira;
- disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) which are used to treat autoimmune arthritis that include methotrexate and gold salts;
- immunosuppressant’s such as azathioprine and cyclophosphamide; or
- surgical options to repair, rebuild, or replace the effected joint.
We recommend the following resources/organizations for more information on arthritis, specific rheumatic conditions (i.e. rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, and various others):
CDC – Arthritis Page
Toll Free: 800/232-4636
National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases
National Resource Center (NIH ORBED-NRC)
Toll Free: 800/624-2663, 202/223-0344 (V), 202/466-4315 (TTY)