The word arthritis means joint inflammation - from the words “arthro,” meaning joint and “itis,” meaning inflammation (the body’s natural response to injury). It typically consists of four symptoms: redness, swelling, heat and pain. Arthritis can occur at any joint in the body and can result from a variety of different disease processes including infection, gout, wear and tear, and even autoimmune conditions.
No matter the underlying cause of the arthritis, the basic symptoms are similar. When a joint becomes inflamed, the result is joint tenderness, pain, swelling, stiffness, and reduction in range of movement. If the inflammation persists over time, the joint begins to deteriorate. If the destruction is severe enough, the joint becomes destroyed and will need to be replaced to relieve pain and restore function.
The pain of arthritis can be temporary or constant; many people with arthritis experience “flare ups,” where the disease is much worse for a period of time and then returns to a lower amount of pain. Typically, the pain and destruction caused by arthritis is slow and tends to increase over time, although occasionally arthritis can occur suddenly. Sudden types of arthritis are usually caused by infection or an underlying condition such as gout.
By far, the two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis
(also known as degenerative joint disease) and rheumatoid arthritis
. Other common causes of arthritis include gout, pseudogout, and infection.
- Gout is a condition of high uric acid in the body; the uric acid becomes crystallized in certain joints and then the body attacks these crystals with inflammation.
- Pseudogout is very similar to gout, only the crystals that are formed are made up of calcium pyrophosphate and not uric acid.
- Occasionally joints will be attacked by infectious arthritis. The infection may be introduced in many different ways, but is generally the result of an infection moving through the blood and ending up in a joint. Infectious arthritis is usually found in only one joint and tends to come on quickly.
This disease is also known as degenerative joint disease.
- It is more common in people over age 65.
- It is mostly thought to be due to wear and tear of a joint.
- It strikes the joints that bear weight and are used often - such as the hips and knees.
The protective covering (cartilage) on the joints breaks down and eventually the bone rubs against bone. Bones rubbing against bones causes destruction of the bone; this destruction leads to inflammation as the entire joint breaks down.
This type of arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that is classified as an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, the body mistakenly attacks itself. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body is attacking the joints of the body, and this can result in inflammation and destruction of the joints.
- The most commonly affected joints in rheumatoid arthritis are those of the hands, feet and wrists, knees, elbows and ankles.
- Usually rheumatoid arthritis strikes both sides of the body at the same time: for example, both wrists or both ankles might be affected.
- Rheumatoid arthritis is considered a systemic disease. This means that the whole body can be affected, not just the joints.
- When the whole body is affected, people can have a wide range of symptoms including:
- Overall muscle weakness
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Infection-like symptoms such as fever and swollen lymph nodes
- Hair loss
- Chest pain
- Skin rashes
- Dry eyes and dry mouth (called sicca syndrome)
- Night sweats
- Weight loss.
- Rheumatoid arthritis can also attack any of the organs of the body. This condition is rare, but usually involves inflammation of the membranes surrounding the heart or inflammation of the blood vessels and results in a condition called vasculitis.
- Rheumatoid arthritis can have flare ups where the pain and inflammation are much worse and then have periods that are relatively pain-free.
- Occasionally, rheumatoid arthritis has been known to completely go away.