Arthritis can make everyday activities like climbing stairs, holding a coffee cup and even getting out of bed difficult or painful. Joints affected by the disease become swollen and stiff, often limiting mobility and causing pain.
In this video, San Diego Health host Susan Taylor talks about the causes of arthritis and options for treatment with Kavitta Allem, MD, a rheumatologist at Scripps Clinic Jefferson in Oceanside and Scripps Clinic Anderson Medical Pavilion in La Jolla.
Joints are where two bones meet, such as your wrist or knee. Arthritis literally means “joint inflammation” and commonly affects the hands, shoulders, hips, knees, spine and feet. More than 54 million Americans live with arthritis, and the disease affects men and women equally.
Rheumatologists — doctors who specialize in diseases of the joints — classify the types of arthritis into inflammatory and noninflammatory.
Noninflammatory arthritis, also referred to as osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease, is a progressive type of arthritis that typically happens with aging or, in some cases, after injury or trauma to a joint. It is mostly caused by “wear and tear” on the joints; the cartilage between the bones that cushions them so they can glide smoothly over each other wears away, creating pain and stiffness. Osteoarthritis is a progressive disease, which means it worsens over time.
Osteoarthritis symptoms include joint swelling and discomfort that often starts slowly and becomes more frequent or severe. Symptoms are often worse in the morning and may improve during the day. Cold or damp weather makes symptoms worse for some people.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disease, which means your immune system mistakenly attacks your own healthy cells.
“With rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system is going after your joints,” says Dr. Allem. “Think of it like a cut that gets infected. Patients say the joints feel red-hot, angry, tender and swollen.”
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis tends to move around to different joints and may come on slowly or suddenly.
Another inflammatory type of arthritis that affects the immune system, psoriatic arthritis develops differently than rheumatoid arthritis. It usually occurs in people who have a history of psoriasis, a skin condition that causes an itchy, scaly rash on the knees, elbows, torso and scalp. Psoriatic arthritis commonly affects joints in the hands, feet and back.
Gout is a highly inflammatory and painful arthritis that typically occurs as flare-ups that last for a week or two. Gout happens when high levels of a chemical called uric acid build up in your body and form sharp crystals around the joint, leading to inflammation.
Gout symptoms come on very suddenly, often overnight, and cause painful, swollen and tender joints. Most people first develop gout in their feet, but it can occur anywhere in the body. Joints that have had gout inflammation tend to develop early osteoarthritis.
While there is no cure for arthritis, a variety of treatments can help relieve the symptoms and restore joint function and mobility.
For osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis, says Dr. Allem, the goal is for patients to remain active and independent with minimal discomfort. Treatments often involve over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory medications along with exercise or physical therapy to relieve stiffness and keep the joints moving.
Many patients find some relief from activity that doesn’t place stress on the joints, such as riding an exercise cycle or swimming. Injections of cortisone or hyaluronic acid into the joint also can ease pain and swelling.
If non-invasive treatments are not effective, joint replacement surgery for osteoarthritis may be an option.
“Hip replacement, knee replacement and shoulder replacement surgery have come a long way,” says Dr. Allem. “They are now done using minimally invasive techniques for a shorter hospital stay and faster recovery, and technologically advanced materials that last for 30 years or more.”
She adds that, over the past ten years, there have been newer treatments for inflammatory arthritis. Treatments may combine medications, injections and physical therapy to help patients with rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout live more active and symptom-free lives.
“If you’re feeling swelling or pain in your joints, or something is limiting your ability to be active, you should see a doctor,” Dr. Allem says. “There are new treatments for arthritis to help you feel better and get back to what you enjoy.”