Q: With the onset of arthritis in your knees or hands, does it usually start in both knees or both hands about the same time? Can you have arthritis in one hand and never in the other? Thanks – Sam
A: Yes, you can have arthritis in one hand, and the likelihood of this happening depends on what type of arthritis you have. There are many types of arthritis – which means joint inflammation, from the words “arthro” meaning joint, and “itis,” meaning inflammation, the body’s natural response to injury. No matter which kind of arthritis you have, the symptoms are typically the same: redness, swelling, heat, and pain. But the course of the disease and treatment opportunities can be very different, so a diagnosis is important.
Osteoarthritis tends to attack only one side of the body. For example, a left knee may have OA, but the right knee may not.
OA, called "degenerative joint disease," is mostly thought to result from wear and tear, but genetic susceptibility appears to play a significant role. OA involves degeneration of the joint’s protective cartilage covering, and especially affects weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips; or the shoulders, elbows and fingers in someone who has performed repetitive tasks such as farming or assembly line work.
Inflammation can follow the degeneration of cartilage, when bone rubbing on bone leads to a breakdown of the joint. The most common treatment for OA is the use of anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements (such as essential fatty acids, ginger, curcumin, MSM, SAMe, and more) and medications.
By contrast, rheumatoid arthritis, which is a chronic inflammatory condition that is classified as an "autoimmune disease," often attacks the same joints on both sides of the body.
In RA, the body mistakes the joints for something foreign and attacks them. RA is unique in that it tends to cause whole-body symptoms. They are different from person to person, but range from fatigue and overall muscle weakness to infection-like symptoms such as fever and swollen lymph nodes. RA is also the disease that most commonly results in joint deformities, although they can happen with any severe form of arthritis.
The medical treatment for RA is unique because it is an autoimmune disease. It is quite varied, as practitioners attempt many different approaches to find one that works.
Other Common Types of Arthritis
Other types of arthritis – for example, gout, pseudogout, or infectious arthritis are also likely to affect only one joint.
• Gout typically strikes the toes, especially the big toe, and ankles, although any joint may be affected. In gout deposits of uric acid crystals in the joint release chemicals that cause inflammation. Prescription drugs are available that block production of uric acid or help the kidneys remove uric acid from the body.
• Pseudogout is more common in the knees, but can also occur in any joint. Pseudogout is inflammation of a joint caused by deposits of calcium pyrophosphate crystals. There are no drugs to treat pseudogout, other than anti-inflammatory and pain medications.
• Infectious arthritis typically strikes a large joint such as a knee or hip joint, but can be found in any joint. The infection may be introduced in many different ways, but is generally the result of an infection – bacteria, virus, or fungus – moving through the blood and ending up in a joint. Infectious arthritis tends to come on quickly.
To read much more about the different common types of arthritis, plus their local and whole-body symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, causes, treatments, choice of a doctor, related conditions, and other types of diseases that may present with painful joints, such as osteoporosis, check out Arthritis 101 in the ProHealth.com Arthritis Health Site.
– Dr. Scott Olson, ND
Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it with your professional healthcare team.