Arthritis


Causes, Incidence, and Risk Factors Joint inflammation, which causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes loss of motion, is a body’s normal reaction to damage or the presence of a foreign agent in that area. This is seen frequently when there is an injury to a joint (including fracture) or the presence of a virus or bacteria. Most of the time inflammation goes away after the injury has healed or the virus or bacteria has been wiped out by the immune system.

With some injuries and some diseases, the inflammation does not go away and this is considered arthritis. Altogether there are more than 100 kinds of arthritis, and there are many different diseases that can cause it. Gout and scleroderma are two such diseases. Arthritis can also develop as a complication of another disease caused by a virus, bacteria, or fungus. Gonorrhea is one of these diseases. When this happens, it is considered infectious arthritis. Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are diseases in which something goes wrong with the immune system and it attacks healthy parts of the body.

Symptoms The common symptoms of arthritis are: Joint pain (arthralgia), joint swelling, early morning stiffness, warmth around a joint, redness of the skin around a joint, reduced ability to move the joint, unexplained weight loss, fever, or weakness that occurs with joint pain symptoms of this sort that last for more than two weeks.

Signs and tests Physical examination may show fluid collection around the joint (called an effusion). The joint may be tender when it is gently pressed (palpation). When attempting to rotate the joint through its normal movements, there may be some pain or difficulty moving it in certain or all directions. This is called limited range–of–motion. Tests vary depending on the suspected cause. They may include various blood, joint fluid, muscle, or urine tests and joint x–rays (x–rays are seldom needed). See the specific types of arthritis.

Treatment Medications to reduce joint pain and joint swelling may include aspirin, non–steroidal anti–inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, gold salts, penicillamine, the anti–malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, and immuno–suppressive drugs, which are drugs that slow the immune system. In some cases, surgery to rebuild the joint (arthroplasty) or to replace the joint (such as a total knee joint replacement) may be recommended to help maintain a more normal lifestyle. Both rest and exercise are important. Warm baths, massage, and stretching exercises may be helpful. Making some modifications in daily activities or using assistive devices to ensure joint protection is recommended.

Complications Chronic pain, lifestyle restrictions or disability.