Answering common questions about arthritis

When you were young, you may have heard your grandmother complain about the ache in her hands as “her arthritis acting up.” These days, you may be feeling its effects yourself. How much do you know about the condition?

Arthritis is common in the United States — more than 50 million Americans have the condition, according to the Arthritis Foundation. But while it’s common, it isn’t always well understood. Below, we answer four common questions about arthritis.

Q: What exactly is arthritis?

A: The word “arthritis” means joint inflammation. This inflammation leads to pain and stiffness in the joints, making it more difficult to move around and do normal daily activities.

While arthritis has often been considered a disease affecting the elderly, the condition can actually occur in people of all ages. In fact, around 300,000 American youth have some form of arthritis.

Symptoms vary depending on the type and severity of a person’s arthritis. Those with arthritis may experience:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Decreased range of motion
  • Permanent joint changes

Q: Are there different kinds of arthritis?

A: Yes. In fact, arthritis is a catch-all phrase used to describe more than 100 different types of joint disease.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and it typically impacts the fingers, knees and hips. Symptoms are often worst in the mornings or after resting, as the joints begin moving again.

Gout is one of the more painful forms of arthritis, and it is caused by a build-up of too much uric acid in the body. The condition can lead to pain, swelling, redness, heat and joint stiffness, and often causes intense attacks or outbreaks of pain.

Fibromyalgia is a group of symptoms that often affects the entire body, leading to chronic pain, excessive fatigue, mood swings, difficulty sleeping and memory problems.

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks the joints. The resulting inflammation can damage cartilage and even cause deformity of the joints.

Q: Who gets arthritis?

A: The short answer is anyone can develop arthritis. But certain people are at a higher risk.

Like most conditions, there are risk factors you can change and risk factors you can’t change. Non-changeable risk factors include increased age, female gender and a family history of certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

However, you can take steps to limit some risk factors, including:

  • Excess weight
  • Joint injuries
  • Occupations that include repetitive knee bending or squatting
  • Overuse from sports
  • Muscle weakness

Q: What can I do if I have it?

A: Arthritis can be managed. If you’re experiencing chronic joint pain, talk with your doctor. With a thorough medical history and a look at the areas where you’re experiencing pain, he or she will be able to pinpoint whether you have arthritis and what type.

If you have arthritis, your doctor will help develop a plan to manage the condition. This plan may include oral or injected medications, physical therapy, prescribed weight loss and even surgery. Certain vitamins and minerals, the use of heat and ice, and massage may also help ease symptoms.

While exercise may seem overwhelming for those with arthritis, regular physical activity can help ease the pain by increasing strength and flexibility and giving you more energy.

Have arthritis? Erlanger Rheumatology accepts referrals from your primary care physician. Need a doctor? Find one here.