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Arthritis is a common yet deeply debilitating medical condition, characterized by pain and impaired mobility of the joints. Prior accidents, heredity, age, and other factors influence the type of arthritis, severity, and level of discomfort it causes to those it afflicts. As a chronic condition, having the right medical practitioner to give you an initial diagnosis and preside over your ongoing treatment will be important in ensuring you live a comfortable life despite your condition. Continue reading to learn more about arthritis and how a knowledgeable doctor can help.

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is defined as joint inflammation that results from a variety of conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis (OA), juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), degenerative arthritis, infectious arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, inflammatory arthritis, gout, reactive arthritis, metabolic arthritis, septic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and reactive arthritis. This medical condition affects approximately 50 million Americans, with women being twice as likely to develop RA as men. The most common form of arthritis is OA, which accounts for 80% of all cases with RA in second place. Both begin as inflammatory diseases of the synovial membranes that line the joints. Although, they differ in the way they progress and the way they affect the body.

Osteoarthritis (also called degenerative arthritis) occurs when cartilage becomes worn down and begins to break down. This leads to bone rubbing against bone, causing pain and loss of motion. OA is the leading cause of disability worldwide, affecting nearly every major joint in the body since arthritis targets the cartilage of the joints causing it to breakdown

Rheumatoid arthritis (also called autoimmune arthritis) is caused by the immune system attacking healthy cells in the joints. The body then produces antibodies that attack the lining of the joints, causing them to swell and become inflamed. Similar to OA, RA causes damage to the joints, creating issues of mobility and extreme pain; however, since it is an autoimmune disease, the person's own immune system attacks their joints causing arthritis. 

Another common form of arthritis is JIA or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis/juvenile idiopathic polyarthritis. Unlike OA, JIA only affects children under the age of 16. It is characterized by swelling and stiffness in multiple joints.

Arthritis can affect any part of the body but tends to start in the large weight-bearing joints first. Thus, while arthritis impacts the entire body, it often first shows symptoms in the hips, knees, hands, feet, ankles, shoulders, elbows, wrists, neck, back, and spine.

What Are the Symptoms?

While there are many different types of arthritis, they all share some similar symptoms; although, complete symptomology will vary depending on what type of arthritis you have. Furthermore, due to differences in people, some people don’t experience any symptoms until the disease has progressed quite far, while others will notice early warning signs. Below are some of the most common symptoms and warning signs of various types of arthritis:

Pain – Joints become stiff and swollen due to inflammation.

Swelling – Due to the accumulation of fluid around the affected area.

Redness – A result of blood vessels become dilated.

Stiffness – Due to muscles losing their flexibility.

Tenderness – Painful areas feel tender when touched.

Heat – Joints may feel warm to the touch.

Loss of function – Losing the ability to move certain parts of the body.

Morning stiffness – Stiffness that is present upon waking and lessons throughout the day.

Fatigue – Feeling tired all the time.

Muscle aches – Muscle soreness following exercise.

Weight gain – Excess fat around the waistline.

Joint pain – Pain in one or more joints.

Fever – Unexplained, frequent fevers over 100 degrees F.

Headaches – Headaches that last longer than 24 hours.

If you have any of these symptoms, it’s best to see your doctor immediately. If left untreated, arthritis can lead to permanent damage and even deformity of your joints. The good news is the earlier you seek treatment for arthritis, the better off you’ll be. In fact, if caught early enough, most forms of arthritis can be treated successfully.

Who Is at Risk for Arthritis?

Arthritis can affect anyone at any time, but it tends to occur more often during middle age. Statistically speaking, 1 in 4 people in the U.S have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis. Women, in general, are more prone to developing arthritis than men, especially after menopause. This is because women have higher levels of estrogen than men, and estrogen plays an important role in the development of osteoarthritis.  However, both genders experience arthritis equally once past this point. While arthritis does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, those with a family history of arthritis are more likely to develop it themselves as genetics are powerful predictors of the onset of medical conditions.

Additionally, those who have sustained joint injuries in the past are naturally more susceptible to the onset of arthritis later in life. In the same vein, those who play sports or have occupations that include consistent repetitive activities will also be susceptible to the development of arthritis, simply due to the constant burden on their joints. Medical issues like infection can also play a powerful role in the disease.

Lastly, obesity and smoking are known to greatly increase the risk of developing some form of the disease. This is because smoking has been directly linked to joint problems namely arthritis while harboring excess weight is known to put stress on the joints making them more susceptible to arthritis. In these cases, there is hope as these risk factors can be eliminated with lifestyle changes resulting in a drastic decrease in symptoms or the possibility that arthritis will never develop in the first place.

How Can a Doctor Help?

If you suspect you might have arthritis, it is important to contact a doctor as soon as possible. A physician will be able to run the right tests so you can be properly diagnosed and begin a treatment plan tailored to the type of arthritis you have, immediately. A doctor will also be able to prescribe relevant medications to improve your symptoms and help slow the associated damages caused by untreated arthritis. In some cases, a family physician will refer you to a specialist who is more adept in treating your specific kind of arthritis. However, even when specialist treatment is involved, your family practitioner will continue to be an important part of your comprehensive treatment plan.

Thus, don't go another day longer, suffering from the pain and other unpleasant symptoms of arthritis. With the right treatment plan, you can get back to more than just living but thriving once more!

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