Often, it’s assumed that arthritis is a blanket term for any sort of joint discomfort experienced by seniors, but there are more than 100 different types of arthritis afflicting approximately 50 million people in the United States. Over half of the people with arthritis are less than 65 years of age; children account for more than 300,000. Arthritis is characterized by painful inflammation of the joints, but each type of arthritis has a few key differences in its symptoms and causes.

The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis

Joints are cushioned by slick cartilage that makes movement smooth and easy. Age, extra body weight, past joint injuries, or strenuous activity can cause cartilage to break down or become rough over time. This degeneration of cartilage is osteoarthritis. The most commonly afflicted joints are the hips, knees, and lower back, but the neck, fingers, base of the thumb, ankles, and big toes can also be affected by osteoarthritis.

The development of osteoarthritis is usually slow and gradual, often manifesting as slight stiffness or soreness in its early stages. More severe osteoarthritis might cause pain debilitating enough to make walking, climbing stairs, or sleeping difficult.

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but there are several potential treatments for its symptoms. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, are effective at alleviating osteoarthritis pain. Prescription corticosteroids might help by reducing painful inflammation from osteoarthritis. Alternative treatments like acupuncture and massage might also reduce pain.

Additionally, lifestyle changes can be extremely successful at both the prevention and treatment of osteoarthritis. Exercise to maintain strong muscles and bones is important, as is maintaining a healthy weight. In fact, losing just one pound of weight removes four pounds of pressure from the knees.

Another type of arthritis can damage the organs, in addition to joints

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body’s immune system, which is supposed to fight off harmful substances like bacteria or viruses, instead attacks itself. In the case of rheumatoid arthritis, the joints and organs are attacked. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis can vary from day to day, but flares–or times when the symptoms and illness increase suddenly–can last for days or months. Pain, fatigue, morning joint stiffness, and warm, reddish, swollen joints are all symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

There is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis. Because of this, as well as the disease’s potential for serious organ damage, it’s important to get diagnosed and treated as soon as possible. According to the Mayo Clinic:

“Rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages because the early signs and symptoms mimic those of many other diseases. There is no one blood test or physical finding to confirm the diagnosis.”

To reach a diagnosis, a physician will take into account all physical symptoms. Then he or she might order an X-ray to visualize joint degeneration or conduct blood tests to look for chemicals that tend to be elevated in people with rheumatoid arthritis. The sum of all the physician’s findings will be used to reach a diagnosis.

As in osteoarthritis, staying active, eating a nutritious diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can all help alleviate the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. There are also several medications that can be beneficial for those with rheumatoid arthritis. Some medications reduce pain or inflammation, while others slow the progression of the disease. Remission of the rheumatoid arthritis is considered successful treatment. Achieving remission usually requires close monitoring by a physician and testing several different combinations of medications.

Psoriatic arthritis develops as a result of the autoimmune disease psoriasis

Psoriasis affects the skin and causes raised, red, scaly patches of skin. As many as 30% of people with psoriasis will eventually develop psoriatic arthritis. The majority of the time, the skin changes of psoriasis precede the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, but not always. Other times, the skin changes may be subtle enough that the individual doesn’t pursue treatment or get a diagnosis until multiple joints are swollen and painful from psoriatic arthritis.

The symptoms of psoriatic arthritis include fatigue, swollen fingers and toes, or pain and swelling over tendons or in the joints. Nail changes, similar to the symptoms of a fungal infection, or redness and pain of the eyes can also occur. Psoriatic arthritis is diagnosed by considering all the individual’s symptoms and using test results to rule out other potential conditions.

Treatment for psoriatic arthritis focuses on alleviating its symptoms and slowing the progression of damage from the disease. NSAIDs and corticosteroids might be utilized to treat the symptoms. Additionally, staying active and using hot and cold compresses can provide relief. Some of the same drugs used to treat other autoimmune disorders, such as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologic response modifiers, might be employed to slow the progression of psoriatic arthritis.

Approximately one out of every 250 children is diagnosed with juvenile arthritis

Juvenile arthritis encompasses any form of arthritis or arthritis-related condition that develops in children or teens younger than 18. It’s often associated with other conditions, such as lupus or dermatomyositis. The symptoms vary depending on which specific type of juvenile arthritis a child is afflicted with, but the Arthritis Foundation identifies common symptoms as:

  • Limited range of motion caused by pain, tenderness, swelling, and stiffness in the joints
  • Joint contracture resulting from holding a painful joint in a flexed position
  • Damage to joint cartilage and bone, which can lead to joint deformity and impaired joint use
  • Altered bone and joint growth, leading to short stature

As with other types of arthritis, diagnosing juvenile arthritis typically involves a variety of tests to rule out other potential conditions. Treatment is a combination of medications to manage symptoms and minimize damage from the disease.

What type of arthritis do you suffer from?

Image by Brooke Hoyer via Flickr

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