Overview and symptoms
Arthritis is a medical term for over 100 types of joint pain and inflammation. It is characterized by stiffness, soreness, redness, deformity, or swelling where two bones meet.
If you have arthritis, you are likely experiencing one or more of the following symptoms:
- Joint pain or soreness, especially after activity
- Joint swelling
- Joint deformity
- Unusual warmth in the joints
- Redness in the joint
- Joint stiffness and decreased ability to bend a joint
The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which may include audible clicking and crackling when you bend your joint. Some types of arthritis may cause additional symptoms, including fever, fatigue, muscle aches, eye pain, and skin redness.
There are many causes of arthritis. Some of the most common include:
- Autoimmune disease. For example, rheumatoid arthritis develops as a result of your immune system mistakenly attacking healthy joint tissues.
- Wear and tear. Osteoarthritis occurs as a result of repetitive motion overuse or aging-related degeneration of the cartilage that lubricates your joints and prevents the bones from rubbing against each other.
- Gout. A condition that causes a painful buildup of uric acid crystals in your joints.
- Infection. Examples are Lyme disease and sepsis.
Arthritis is an umbrella term for rheumatic (inflammatory) conditions that affect the joints. Some of the most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and gout:
- Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis refers to arthritis caused by wear and tear of bone and cartilage, which is smooth tissue that cushions the ends of bones. A joint injury also can lead to osteoarthritis years after the trauma.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and lupus. With these forms of arthritis, your immune system mistakes healthy tissue as harmful and attacks it, causing inflammation. Environmental factors and genetics play a role in these types of arthritis, but the exact cause is not known.
- Gout. Another common form of arthritis is gout. This is caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in your joints and is most common in men older than 40. In addition to age and gender, other risk factors for gout include consuming certain food and drinks, diuretic medicines, joint injury, sudden weight loss, and dehydration.
Risk factors for arthritis depend on the type, but may include:
- Genetics. Family history often predicts an increased risk of RA and osteoarthritis.
- Age. Many types of arthritis become more likely with age.
- History of joint injuries. Trauma involving your joints makes future osteoarthritis more likely.
- Gender. Men are at higher risk of gout, while women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis.
- Weight and lifestyle. Being overweight and smoking can increase risks for many types of arthritis.
While many types of arthritis cannot be prevented, there are steps you can take to manage your risk. They include:
- Not smoking, or quitting smoking if you already smoke (smoking is associated with up to 2.4 times higher risk of RA).
- Maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise, as recommended by your doctor.
- Protecting your joints from injury and using protective gear when engaging in high-risk sports.
- Following proper ergonomics (work station setup) while working, to avoid overuse injuries.
- Eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids (a group of healthy fats found in fish).
- Limiting your exposure to pollutants such as pesticides and herbicides, asbestos, and silica. If you cannot avoid exposure, make sure to take necessary safety precautions and wear proper protective gear.
- Seeking treatment quickly if you notice signs of arthritis, which will minimize potential joint damage.