Approximately 52.5 million adults in the United States report having arthritis. And just like the individuals who suffer from it, each type of arthritis is unique. The term arthritis refers to more than 100 different rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect the joints. Each condition can vary greatly in its symptoms, location, severity and treatment (Source: CDC). The most common types of arthritis include:
Cartilage acts as a natural cushion and shock absorber in the joints, but when cartilage begins to deteriorate, the bones can rub against one another and cause joints to become swollen or painful. This condition is known as osteoarthritis, and it is the most common form of arthritis seen among patients. Osteoarthritis has a variety of causes, including obesity, genetics, injury and joint overuse. Symptoms may take months or years to develop, and they typically include pain, swelling and joint stiffness.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy joint tissue. Unlike other forms of arthritis which can affect just one joint in particular, rheumatoid arthritis produces symmetric joint pain, such as pain in both knees or both hands. The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are more severe than osteoporosis. In addition to joint pain, stiffness and swelling, patients may also suffer from fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, and pain in other parts of the body (Source: WebMD).
More than 12 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, a musculoskeletal condition that affects the muscles and soft tissues throughout the body. The key symptom of fibromyalgia is widespread chronic pain, but the condition has been linked to a myriad of other symptoms including fatigue, sleep disturbances, tender points, depression and anxiety, headaches, abdominal pain, sensitivity to heat or cold, numbness in the extremities and stiffness.
This form of arthritis is caused by uric acid crystals which collect in the joints, causing sudden pain, swelling, warmth and redness. Gout usually affects just one joint at a time, although multiple joints may be affected simultaneously. Episodes of gout can last for days or even weeks, and these attacks may increase in frequency and severity over time.
When to see a doctor
Schedule an appointment with your doctor if you experience joint pain, swelling or stiffness, as these are common symptoms of arthritis. There is no single test to diagnose arthritis, so your doctor will need to collect a detailed medical history and perform a physical exam. Further testing such as an MRI, X-ray or blood work may also be necessary to diagnose your condition.