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What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a painful disease caused by joint damage.

Joints connect your bones, allowing your body to move and bend. When there's damage to the cartilage surrounding a joint, everyday movements can be painful.

Types of arthritis

There are different types of arthritis.

The most common types are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Autoimmune arthritis
  • Juvenile arthritis

A broad range of things can cause each type, but joint pain and stiffness are the main symptoms of all types of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis causes and risk factors

Osteoarthritis — the most common type — is what most people think of when they think of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage between your joints breaks down due to wear and tear from:

  • Aging
  • Injury
  • Being overweight

In some cases, osteoarthritis can be genetic. This means you have a higher risk of getting osteoarthritis if it runs in your family.

Autoimmune arthritis causes and risk factors

An autoimmune disorder causes this type of arthritis — also known as rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmune disorders occur when your body's immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue, often in the joints.

Autoimmune arthritis is more common in women than in men. Symptoms vary from day to day.

Treatment for autoimmune arthritis — most often medication — can cause the disease to go into remission, becoming inactive or lowerng the amount of inflammation.

Juvenile arthritis causes and risk factors

Juvenile arthritis refers to any autoimmune or inflammatory condition that may develop in a person 16 years old or younger.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the most common arthritic condition among this age group. A child 16 or younger who has swelling in one or more joints for six weeks or longer may have JIA.

There are no known causes of juvenile arthritis, although some think it may be an inherited disease. 

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The three most common types of arthritis are:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Autoimmune arthritis
  • Juvenile arthritis

Osteoarthritis Symptoms

Osteoarthritis is most common in the:

  • Neck
  • Lower back
  • Hips
  • Knees
  • Feet
  • Fingers

Joint damage causes osteoarthritis symptoms, such as:

  • Inflammation
  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness

Autoimmune Arthritis Symptoms

Autoimmune arthritis — also known as rheumatoid arthritis — is most common in the:

  • Hands
  • Wrists
  • Elbows
  • Knees
  • Ankles
  • Feet

If you have autoimmune arthritis in a joint on one side of your body, you likely have it in the same joint on the other side of your body.

Inflammation causes pain and heat in your joints, and possible redness.

Other symptoms of autoimmune arthritis are:

  • Fatigue
  • Irritation
  • Swelling

Juvenile Arthritis Symptoms

Symptoms of juvenile arthritis are the same as those in adults with arthritis, including:

  • Pain
  • Inflammation
  • Swelling

Arthritis Diagnosis

Some types of arthritis cause damage quickly, so you should talk to your doctor as soon as possible about arthritis treatments.

To diagnose your arthritis, your doctor will:

  • Take your medical and family history.
  • Perform a physical exam.
  • Ask about your symptoms, including the location of your pain, and if there are certain times of the day when you have more pain.

Be prepared to answer questions about any activities or movements that make your pain worse.

Your doctor may also want to:

  • Draw blood to help find out what type of arthritis you have.
  • Take x-rays or an MRI to look for damage within your joints.
  • Remove a small amount of fluid from your joint with a needle to see if it contains small particles that signal joint wear. 

Learn more about arthritis symptoms and diagnostic tests

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Goals of Arthritis Treatment

The main goals for treating your arthritis are to:

  • Control your pain.
  • Try to stop the disease from getting worse.
  • Maintain your ability to move.

Doctors cannot reverse the effects of arthritis but they can control them, in some cases.

Medication for Arthritis

When over-the-counter pain medicines — such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen — no longer work, your doctor may prescribe a drug to relieve your arthritis pain.

Depending on the type of arthritis you have, your doctor may also treat you with steroids or other medications.

Some arthritis drugs control your immune system's inflammation response and can have side effects. Your doctor can discuss these side effects with you and help you decide if these drugs are right for you. 

Learn more about arthritis treatment

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