Arthritis | Orthopaedics | Loyola Medicine


Overview and Facts about Arthritis

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints and can affect either a single joint or multiple joints like the foot and ankle, hand, thumb and wrist, knee, neck or shoulder.

Arthritis is a very common condition for people in the United States, with about 54 million adults and 300,000 babies and children diagnosed.

There are over 100 types of arthritis, but the most common forms include:

  • Fibromyalgia
  • Gout
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Signs and Symptoms of Arthritis

The signs and symptoms of arthritis often depend on the type of arthritis you have. Nevertheless, most forms of arthritis have similar characteristics.

The common signs and symptoms associated with arthritis include:

  • Decreased range of motion
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Redness

Causes and Risk Factors of Arthritis

Common causes for arthritis are wear and tear on the joints, which damages the cartilage and causes the bones to rub together; and a weakened immune system, such as in rheumatoid arthritis.

The immune system can attack the body’s own cartilage cells, which leads to cartilage breaking down and bones rubbing together, causing friction and pain.

The risk factors for arthritis include:

  • Being female
  • Being obese, as this increases pressure on the joints
  • Being of older age
  • Family history of the condition
  • Having suffered a joint injury previously

Tests and Diagnosis of Arthritis

Your primary care doctor can often diagnose arthritis; however, a rheumatologist specializes in this condition and can confirm what type of arthritis you may have.

The first step in diagnosing arthritis is to discuss your symptoms and test the range of motion of your joints. Then your doctor will likely order tests to examine the joints, bones, and other body tissues.

These tests may include:

Treatment and Care of Arthritis

There are several different treatment options for arthritis. Physical therapy and strengthening the joints through exercise are essential components of any treatment plan, which might seem counterintuitive for people experiencing arthritis pain. However, this can help stop the arthritis from getting worse.

Medications can also be helpful in managing the discomfort associated with arthritis. The most appropriate medications will largely depend on the type of arthritis diagnosed. Commonly used arthritis medications include:

  • Analgesics for pain
  • Corticosteroids to reduce joint pain and suppress the immune system
  • Counterirritants to reduce discomfort in painful joints
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which are prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to lower pain and inflammation