Arthritis is a name for a group of conditions affecting the joints. These conditions cause damage to the joints, usually resulting in pain and stiffness. Arthritis can affect many different parts of the joint and nearly every joint in the body.
Is rheumatism different to arthritis?
Not really. Rheumatism is just a more general word that was used in the past. It described any pain in your bones, muscles and joints. We know more about problems with bones, muscles and joints, so we use words like back pain, tendonitis and arthritis to describe these conditions now.
There are more than 100 rheumatic diseases characterized by inflammation (signs are redness and/or heat, swelling, and pain) and loss of function of one or more connecting structures of the body. Others are known as autoimmune diseases because they occur when the immune system, which normally protects the body from infection and disease, harms the body’s own healthy tissues.
Types of Arthritis:
• Inflammatory arthritis is a condition where the body’s immune system attacks the joints and causes them to become swollen. A common example is rheumatoid arthritis, which affects around 400,000 people in the UK.
• Degenerative or mechanical arthritis is a group of conditions where the cartilage, which covers the surface of the bones in the joints, becomes damaged. Commonly called osteoarthritis, it’s estimated that this affects around 8.5 million people in the UK.
• Soft tissue musculoskeletal pain is a term which covers pain felt in the muscles or soft tissues surrounding joints. An example of this type of pain is tennis elbow.
• Connective tissue disease (CTD) affects the tissues that support or bind other body tissues and organs. This may affect the joints, but muscles, lungs, skin and kidneys may also be affected. This is also known as fibromyalgia
• Back pain is a common complaint that affects four out of five people at some time during their lives. It isn’t usually a sign of arthritis and is often a short-term problem, although long-term back pain may have a more complex cause. It can be as a result of any of the four above groups of conditions.
• Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The most common form of arthritis in childhood, causing pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of function of the joints. It may be associated with rashes or fevers, and may affect various parts of the body.
• Systemic lupus erythematosus. Also known as lupus or SLE is an autoimmune disease. This can result in inflammation of and damage to the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and brain.
This group of rheumatic diseases principally affects the spine. One common form, ankylosing spondylitis, affects the spine, but may also affect the hips, shoulders, and knees as the tendons and ligaments around the bones and joints become inflamed, resulting in pain and stiffness. Spondyloarthropathies
Who gets arthritis?
Men, women and children of all ages can get arthritis; however, there are a number of factors which can make you more likely to develop arthritis, including:
• Genetics – many forms of arthritis run in families, although this isn’t always the case
• Lifestyle – physically demanding jobs and injuries can sometimes lead to osteoarthritis
• Trigger factors – short-lived arthritis can be triggered by some infections
• Gender – might increase your risk of developing a certain condition, for example more men develop ankylosing spondylitis and more women develop rheumatoid arthritis.
This isn’t a definitive list as there are many varied reasons why people develop arthritic conditions. For many conditions there’s a strong element of chance.
What are the symptoms?
Arthritis affects people in different ways but the most common symptoms are:
• Stiffness or reduced movement of a joint
• swelling in a joint
• Redness and warmth in a joint
• General symptoms, such as tiredness, weight loss or feeling unwell.
Is my sore joint arthritis?
There are many different reasons why your joints may be sore. Not all pain in muscles and joints is caused by arthritis. It could be from an injury or using your joints and muscles in an unusual way (for example, playing a new sport or lifting heavy boxes). Talk to your doctor if you have pain and stiffness that:
• starts for no clear reason
• lasts for more than a few days
• comes on with swelling, redness and warmth of your joints.
How can I find out if I have arthritis?
See your doctor as soon as possible if you have symptoms of arthritis. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine your joints. They may do some tests or x-rays, but these can be normal in the early stages of arthritis. It may take several visits before your doctor can tell what type of arthritis you have. This is because some types of arthritis can be hard to diagnose in the early stages. Your doctor may also send you to a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in arthritis, for more tests.
What treatments are there?
Treatments for arthritis are varied but could include drug treatments, physical therapies and surgery.
Drug treatments include:
• Drugs that treat the symptoms of arthritis, such as painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
• Drugs that suppress the disease itself, such as steroids, biological therapies and disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
Physical therapies include:
• Physiotherapy – where you’ll be given advice on things like exercises specific to your condition, which may include hydrotherapy (exercises in a warm-water pool). Physiotherapy can also include things like massage and pain relief
• Occupational therapy – where you can get help and advice about any difficulties with everyday activities.
• Joint replacements for severe cases
• Other pain-relieving or reconstructive operations.