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Arthritis basics

What is arthritis?

Arthritis describes conditions causing joint pain and inflammation.

There are many types of arthritis, each with different causes, symptoms and treatments.

Joints are where bones meet, including the hips and knees.

Normal Joint

As well as bones, joints have cartilage to cushions the bones, and a lubrication fluid called synovial fluid. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue holding the bones together while allowing movement.

Arthritis symptoms

Although symptoms vary between arthritis types, they often include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Inflammation
  • Swelling
  • Joint warm to the touch
  • Reduced range of movement.

Types of arthritis

Common types of arthritis include:

Osteoarthritis: This wear and tear form of arthritis is the most common type. Cartilage gets worn down over the years causing friction and problems.

Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an autoimmune condition where the body's immune system defence wrongly attacks the joints, causing pain and inflammation.

Gout: This is caused by uric acid forming into crystals in the joint causing pain and swelling.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). This affects children under 16 and the cause is not known.

Septic (infectious) arthritis: This is caused by a bacterial or viral infection of the joints, usually triggered by another disease or injury.

Psoriatic arthritis. This type of arthritis affects people with the skin condition psoriasis.

Arthritis causes

Different types of arthritis have different risk factors, which include:

  • Getting older
  • Gender
  • Being obese or overweight and putting a joint under strain
  • Jobs or sports putting extra strain on joints
  • Immune system problems
  • Other health conditions.

How common is arthritis?

Arthritis is a common condition affecting around 10 million people in the UK.

Arthritis diagnosis

Arthritis will be diagnosed based on the person's symptoms, a physical examination, a discussion about medical history and possible causes, and tests may be arranged.

Tests for different types of arthritis include:

  • X-rays
  • MRI scans
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Joint fluid tests.

Some tests may be done to try to rule out other causes of the symptoms.

Arthritis treatment

Treatment for arthritis will depend on the type and symptoms, but may include:

  • Pain relief
  • Physiotherapy
  • Exercise
  • Hot or cold compresses
  • Joint protection
  • Operations or joint replacement
  • Specific medications for types of arthritis, such as biological therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.

Arthritis outlook

Once diagnosed, most types of arthritis can be managed so that pain and disability is minimised and further damage to joints is prevented.

Arthritis prevention

Arthritis cannot always be prevented, but some lifestyle measures may help reduce the risk including:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising to strengthen joint muscles
  • Protecting the joints with protective equipment, such as knee pads and good quality footwear.
  • Eating a healthy balanced diet to nourish bones and muscles.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 12, 2016

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