The word "arthritis" means joint inflammation. As many as 43 million people in the United States have some form of arthritis, and it is the nation's leading cause of disability.
Inflammation is one of the body's normal reactions to injury or disease. In an injured or defective joint, this results in swelling, pain and stiffness. Inflammation is usually temporary, but in arthritic joints, it may cause long-lasting or permanent disability.
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. The most common type is osteoarthritis, which is sometimes called degenerative joint disease. It occurs to some extent in most people as they age, but can also occur as a result of joint injury.In osteoarthritis, the cartilage surface covering the bone ends becomes rough and eventually wears away. In some cases, an abnormal bone growth called a "spur" can develop. Pain and swelling result from joint inflammation. Continued use of the joint produces more pain and swelling. This may be relieved somewhat by rest and medication.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic or long-lasting systemic disease that can attack many parts of the body, including the joints. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joint fluid contains chemical substances that attack the joint surface and damage it. Inflammation occurs in response to the disease. Symptoms of arthritis usually includes swelling, pain, and stiffness even when the joint is not used.
Diagnosing arthritis includes noting the patient's symptoms, performing a physical examination and taking an X-ray, which is important in showing the extent of damage to the joint. Blood tests and other laboratory tests, such as examination of the joint fluid, may help to determine the type of arthritis the patient has. Once the diagnosis has been made, treatment can begin.
The type of treatment a patient receives depends on:
The goals of treatment are to provide pain relief and to maintain or restore function to the arthritic joint. Most treatment programs are individually tailored to include a combination of medication, exercise, rest and methods of protecting the joints. If these treatments do not provide the desired results, surgery may be recommended.
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