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Arthritis – symptoms and causes

Arthritis refers to the tenderness and inflammation of one or more of joints. The condition is characterised by joint pain and stiffness, which gradually worsens with increasing age. Arthritis is a rheumatic condition, with the most common forms being osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatic conditions tend to cause intense pain, aching, stiffness, inflammation in and around the joints. 

Osteoarthritis causes the cartilage of the joints to break down, while rheumatoid arthritis affects the immune system of the person attacking the joints, specifically. Arthritis is most commonly found in people above the age of 65, though it can develop even in children, teenagers or adults below this age. It is also more commonly found in women than in men. 

Types of Arthritis

Some common types of arthritis include:

  • Inflammatory arthritis leads to damaging inflammation which affects the joints and causes pain, stiffness and swelling. Some common types of inflammatory arthritis include rheumatoid arthritis, reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, colitis or psoriasis. 
  • Degenerative or mechanical arthritis: This condition tends to damage the cartilage which protects the end of the bones, helping the joints glide easily and move smoothly.Osteoarthritis is advanced for of this type of arthritis which causes undesirable bony growths to form to replace the damaged cartilage and help restore stability.
  • Soft tissue musculoskeletal pain: This type of arthritis affects the tissues instead of the joints and bones and is most commonly caused due to injury or overuse.
  • Connective tissue disease (CTD): CTD affects the connective tissues which hold or separate the body tissues and organs.These include tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. CTD causes immense pain and inflammation. Some common CTD types include SLE or lupus, systematic sclerosis, dermatomyositis. 
  • Infectious arthritis: This condition of inflammation in the joint is caused by a bacterium, fungus, or virus. 
  • Gout: Gout results in intense and sudden pain, swelling, redness and extreme tenderness in the joints; this condition can affect anyone and comes and goes.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): RA occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its joints and leads to pain, inflammation, and degeneration of the joint tissue, cartilage and eventually the bone. This condition can affect the quality of life and restrict mobility, even cause disability in many cases. 
  • Osteoarthritis: A very common form degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis affects the joint cartilage, the lining of the joints, ligaments and the underlying bone structure. The condition causes intense pain and stiffness in the joint. 
  • Childhood arthritis: Also known as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), this condition causes permanent and incurable damage to the joint, majorly caused because of immune system issues.

There are also several other forms such as psoriatic arthritis, fibromyalgia, septic arthritis, scleroderma, etc. 

Symptoms of Arthritis

The symptoms of arthritis develop over time; however, they can also occur suddenly, depending on the type of arthritis. That said, some general symptoms which can indicate a form of arthritis include:

  • Intense pain which may come and go, while it affects one or more body parts
  • Stiffness in joint especially after waking up, sitting in the car, exercises, sitting at a desk, etc.
  • Restricted mobility of the joint causing difficulty in normal movements
  • Unexplained swelling and redness of the joint
  • Reduced range of motion

Symptoms for some common forms of arthritis include:

Rheumatoid arthritis:

  • Morning stiffness which lasts for more than an hour
  • Pain in joints
  • Loss of range of motion
  • Chest pain
  • Dry mouth and eyes
  • Itching, burning and unusual discharge from eyes
  • Nodules under the skin
  • Feeling for numbness, tingling or burning of the hands and feet
  • Difficulty in sleeping

Osteoarthritis

  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Increased pain post-exercise or pressure on the joint
  • Stiffness in the morning
  • Sleep disturbance due to pain
  • Absurd sounds on joint movement

Childhood arthritis

  • Red, warm or swollen joint
  • Stiffness or limited movement of the joint
  • Limping
  • Sudden fever that comes and goes
  • Rash on the trunk or side effects which come and go with the fever
  • Pale skin, lymph glands swelling, etc.
  • Changes in vision, redness of eyes, or any other unexplained and sudden eye issues

Gout

  • pain and swelling
  • intense and sudden pain most often at night
  • warm, tender, red and swollen joints
  • Fever 

Causes of Arthritis

There is no particular cause which can be associated with arthritis; they vary per the type of arthritis. However, some possible causes leading to the development of the condition include:

  • An injury which can cause a generative form of arthritis
  • Abnormal metabolism can result in gout
  • Family history can lead to osteoarthritis
  • Infections 
  • Dysfunction of the immune system can lead to Rheumatoid arthritis and SLE

That said, most forms of arthritis have more than one cause, with no particular or obvious reason. They are also unpredictable in occurrence. But some people are at more risk of developing a form of arthritis as compared to others. These include:

  • Genetic factors
  • Family history
  • Previous injury and trauma
  • Infection
  • Smoking
  • Physically exhausting occupations
  • Poor diet and nutrition

Risk Factors of Arthritis

Some risk factors can be easily linked to forms of arthritis can be classified as modifiable and non-modifiable.

Non-modifiable risk factors are:

  • Increasing age
  • Sex, typically women
  • Genetic factors

Modifiable risk factors are:

  • Overweight and obesity
  • Joint injuries
  • Infection
  • Demanding or physically challenging work types

Arthritis is a very complex problem which can severely impact the quality of life. Even though it is difficult to diagnose, several symptom studies and regular medical check-ups can help with early diagnosis and initiation of treatment to control and in many cases, reverse the damage, depending on the type and severity of arthritis.

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