What you need to know about arthritis

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When you think of arthritis, you probably picture an elderly person with aching fingers. You may have heard that cracking your knuckles gives you arthritis. But, let’s get the facts straight.

Arthritis doesn’t only target the elderly. More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Experts there also state that the condition is more common in people who have other chronic conditions. Consider these arthritis statistics

  • 49 percent of adults with heart disease have arthritis.
  • 47 percent of adults with diabetes have arthritis.
  • 31 percent of adults who are obese have arthritis.

So, what is arthritis? Vijayabhanu Mahadevan, MD, is a rheumatologist who sees patients in Phoenix. She explains it is a pain and swelling in your joints.

Arthritis Types

The Arthritis Foundation states there are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. Dr. Mahadevan notes there are three primary types of arthritis: inflammatory, non-inflammatory and infectious.

Non-inflammatory or degenerative arthritis. Most commonly known as osteoarthritis, non-inflammatory arthritis is the most common form of the condition, which Dr. Mahadevan says is because of the aging population. Many people think of it as the daily wear and tear on your joints. 

Inflammatory arthritis. This type of arthritis contains a group of diseases that cause inflammation of joints and surrounding tissues. Dr. Mahadevan said it includes rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, gout and others.  

Infectious arthritis. This type of arthritis is caused by an infection in the joint. Lyme disease, infectious hepatitis, rheumatic fever and other types of systemic infections.

Arthritis symptoms and treatment

Arthritis symptoms should surprise no one with even a basic understanding of the condition. Tell-tale arthritis symptoms include joint pain, redness, swelling and limited motion, and can affect any joint in the body, according to Dr. Mahadevan.

“Rheumatoid arthritis is usually symmetrical, involving the small joints of the hands, wrists or feet,” she said. “Weight-bearing joints, such as lumbar spine, knees or hips, can get osteoarthritis.”

Your doctor will need to examine you to determine if you have arthritis. As part of the examination process, you will likely have some laboratory work completed, a set of X-rays, a thorough exam of the joints and a discussion about your clinical history.

If your doctor determines you have arthritis, he or she will begin to develop an arthritis treatment plan customized for you. 

“There is no cure, but several medications are available to manage symptoms and slow down progression of certain arthritides,” noted Dr. Mahadevan. “Weight loss helps with knee arthritis progression, and exercises help with maintaining strength.”

Treatment success depends greatly on the type of arthritis, according to Dr. Mahadevan.

“See your physician when you start noticing pain or swelling or redness in the joints that does not go away or gets worse progressively,” said Dr. Mahadevan.

And, one final fact from Dr. Mahadevan: Cracking your knuckles doesn’t lead to arthritis.

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