Understanding the signs and symptoms of arthritis

While most forms of arthritis are not curable, there are treatment options

Arthritis is a condition that affects more than 58.5 million adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wear and tear on the joints or when the immune system begins attacking the tissues in the joints are common causes, but arthritis can also be caused by an injury or an infection.

Maintaining a healthy weight and protecting your joints during sports and other activities can help, but there’s not much you can do to prevent arthritis, and most forms of arthritis are not curable.

Dr. Hilda Draeger, a rheumatologist at University Health, explained the condition and what treatment options are available for those experiencing arthritis.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is an umbrella term that involves different types of arthritis. Most people have heard about rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Who’s at risk for arthritis?

Some people are at higher risk for arthritis than others, these include:

  • Older people are more likely to develop osteoarthritis because wear and tear on the joints worsens over time. Older adults are also more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, rather than younger people.
  • Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Excess weight puts added pressure on the body’s joints, making overweight and obese people at higher risk for arthritis.
  • People with family history of arthritis.
  • A joint injury increases your risk of developing arthritis in the injured joint later in life.

What is the difference between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the joints. The body sees the person’s joints as enemies and launches an attack on them. Usually, when someone gets a bacteria or viral infection, the immune system attacks the virus or bacteria, but with rheumatoid arthritis, it attacks the joints.

Osteoarthritis is when the cartilage between your joints breaks down. This usually happens due to daily wear and tear. It is common to see osteoarthritis as we get older.

How is arthritis diagnosed?

Arthritis is typically diagnosed during a physical exam. The doctor will discuss your symptoms and look for signs of swelling, redness and warmth in the area.

From there, you may be recommended lab tests in which doctors can analyze joint fluid, blood and urine to determine what type of arthritis you have. More tests may be needed, depending on the lab results.

Osteoarthritis and other forms of arthritis can be diagnosed with imaging tests and blood tests, but diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis is often difficult because its symptoms are similar to that of other diseases.

If your doctor believes you have rheumatoid arthritis, additional lab tests and imaging may be needed to confirm the diagnosis. Imaging tests and lab work can also be used to track the progression of the disease over time.

How are these conditions treated?

While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, there are treatment options. These treatments involve reducing pain and helping the joints work better.

Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis involves immunosuppression treatment that tells the immune system to calm down.

In both types of arthritis, Draeger said, they try to get the patient moving.

“We have a pharmacist on our team that works with patients and their primary care physician to help with weight loss or quitting smoking, because we know that these changes will not only help their arthritis, but also helps in managing other medical illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease,” Draeger said.

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