5 Things You Should Know About Arthritis

By Ernst Lamothe Jr.

Arthritis is a general term that many people use to describe pain or swelling in their joints.

The health condition affects about one in four US adults (23.7%) or about 58.5 million people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Almost everyone at some point in their lives may suffer from joint pain, so it is important to understand the different types of arthritis,” said Anthony Ocon, attending rheumatologist in the division of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at Rochester Regional Health.

Ocon, who is also a clinical assistant professor of medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center, offers five facts about arthritis.

1 — Arthritis causes

Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common form. Arthritis symptoms vary depending on the type of arthritis and its severity. The most common symptoms include joint pain, stiffness and swelling. It can also cause fever, weight loss and fatigue.

When patients ignore symptoms, conditions worsen to the point where it reduces mobility making daily tasks more difficult. There is also inflammatory arthritis, which often connects to autoimmune issues.

“Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common inflammatory arthritis syndromes where the immune system attacks different parts of joints,” said Ocon. “Gout is another form of inflammatory arthritis caused by high levels of uric acid in the body. It is important for people to understand the type of arthritis they have so they are able to treat it appropriately. Some people will develop multiple types over their life.”

A person’s chance of developing arthritis increases due to several factors, including simply age. Rheumatoid on the other hand is more common with women and people with a family history of diabetes.

2 — Affects all ages

With the rising age of the American population, it is no surprise that there is an increased number of older individuals with arthritis. However, many younger people also develop it. The reasons vary.

“Many younger individuals develop early onset osteoarthritis due to strenuous athletic use or traumatic injuries. Some younger individuals, including children, may develop an autoimmune inflammatory arthritis caused by juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

In addition, there is better awareness by primary care physicians and providers to screen for symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

“That brings younger individuals to the attention of arthritis physicians,” said Ocon. “Also, the obesity epidemic may play a role in the development of both osteoarthritis, as well as inflammatory arthritis, in younger individuals.”

3 — Treatment

There are a variety of treatments for arthritis. The most effective treatment requires differentiating which type or types of arthritis an individual has. For osteoarthritis, some over-the-counter oral medications such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen, as well as topical medications such as diclofenac gel, may be effective for mild to moderate arthritis. “Corticosteroid injections often help isolated joint pain. For severe osteoarthritis, orthopedic surgeons are able to replace many joints,” he added. “For inflammatory autoimmune-related arthritis, rheumatologists have a variety of medications for treatment. For a patient with multiple forms of arthritis, a personalized treatment plan for each type may provide the best outcome.”

Other treatments include medication, physical therapy and lifestyle changes. Some medications reduce inflammation and pain, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs. Physical therapy also improves  mobility and reduces

4 — Family History

Most types of arthritis may have a genetic component. Studies have shown that family history may contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. But it doesn’t entirely explain all the aspects of an individual’s risk. The condition can develop with someone with no family history but also often family members are exposed to the same environmental risk factors that could cause rheumatoid arthritis.

“This can be seen in both osteoarthritis as well as with inflammatory and autoimmune-related arthritis,” said Ocon. “When speaking with patients, they often tell me their parents or grandparents had similar symptoms.”

5 — Misconceptions

There are hundreds of variations of arthritis but the two most common types remain osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Natural wear and tear causes osteoarthritis on the joints and that comes from natural aging, while rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the joints. This can lead to inflammation and pain.

“Many people believe that their joint pain is part of the aging process and normal. Some people believe there is no treatment for arthritis. Both of these misconceptions lead to delays in care and could cause a person to suffer unduly,” said Ocon.

Anthony Ocon is attending rheumatologist in the division of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at Rochester Regional Health. He is also a clinical assistant professor of medicine at University of Rochester Medical Center.