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Arthritis

A general term for conditions that cause inflammation (swelling) of the joints and surrounding tissues. Some forms of arthritis may occur simultaneously with osteoporosis and Paget's disease.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases)

About Arthritis

Arthritis is a general term for conditions that affect the joints and surrounding tissues. Joints are places in the body where bones come together, such as the knees, wrists, fingers, toes, and hips. The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a painful, degenerative joint disease that often involves the hips, knees, neck, lower back, or small joints of the hands. OA usually develops in joints that are injured by repeated overuse from performing a particular task or playing a favorite sport or from carrying around excess body weight.

Eventually this injury or repeated impact thins or wears away the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones in the joint. As a result, the bones rub together, causing a grating sensation. Joint flexibility is reduced, bony spurs develop, and the joint swells. Usually, the first symptom of OA is pain that worsens following exercise or immobility.

Treatment usually includes analgesics, topical creams, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (known as NSAIDs); appropriate exercises or physical therapy; joint splinting; or joint replacement surgery for seriously damaged larger joints, such as the knee or hip.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that usually involves various joints in the fingers, thumbs, wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, feet, and ankles. An autoimmune disease is one in which the body releases enzymes that attack its own healthy tissues. In RA, these enzymes destroy the linings of joints. This causes pain, swelling, stiffness, malformation, and reduced movement and function.

People with RA also may have systemic symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, weight loss, eye inflammation, anemia, subcutaneous nodules (bumps under the skin), or pleurisy (a lung inflammation).

Although osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are two very different medical conditions with little in common, the similarity of their names causes great confusion. These conditions develop differently, have different symptoms, are diagnosed differently, and are treated differently. NIH - National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Konservative, nichtmedikamentose Therapie bei Rheumatoidarthritis [Conservative, non drug treatment in rheumatoid arthritis]

Bibliographic details: Ammer K.  Konservative, nichtmedikamentose Therapie bei Rheumatoidarthritis [Conservative, non drug treatment in rheumatoid arthritis]. Physikalische Medizin Rehabilitationsmedizin Kurortmedizin 2003; 13(1): 13-20

Efficacy and safety of leflunomide and methotrexate in treating rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis

Bibliographic details: Su R, Wei L, Chen YC, Liu Y.  Efficacy and safety of leflunomide and methotrexate in treating rheumatoid arthritis: a meta-analysis. Chinese Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine 2011; 11(9): 1062-1069

Chinese herbal medicines versus disease modifying antirheumatic drugs for management of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review

Bibliographic details: Zhang C, Jiang M, Lu A.  Chinese herbal medicines versus disease modifying antirheumatic drugs for management of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review. European Journal of Integrative Medicine 2011; 3(3): e219-e231 Available from: http://www.europeanintegrativemedicinejrnl.com/article/S1876-3820%2811%2900119-3/abstract

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Summaries for consumers

Medicines for Psoriatic Arthritis: A Review of the Research for Adults

This summary will tell you about DMARDs, a type of medicine for people with PsA. It will also discuss the possible side effects of these medicines. It will tell you what research has found about how well DMARDs work to treat PsA. This summary can help you talk with your doctor about whether one of these medicines might be right for you. This summary does not discuss treatments for the skin condition of psoriasis.

Medicines for Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Review of the Research for Adults

This summary will tell you about two types of medicine to treat RA: DMARDs and corticosteroids. It will explain what research has found about how well DMARDs work when taken alone or with corticosteroids to treat RA. It will also tell you what research says about the side effects of these medicines. You can use this summary to talk with your doctor about whether one of these medicines may be right for you.

Antimalarials for treating rheumatoid arthritis

Antimalarials have been used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for several decades. This review found four trials, with 300 patients receiving hydrochloroquine and 292 receiving placebo. A benefit was observed in the patients taking hydroxychloroquine compared to placebo. There was no difference between the two groups in terms of those who had to withdraw from trials due to side effects.

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Terms to know

Inflammation
Redness, swelling, pain, and/or a feeling of heat in an area of the body. This is a protective reaction to injury, disease, or irritation of the tissues.
Joints
In medicine, the place where two or more bones are connected. Examples include the shoulder, elbow, knee, and jaw.
Osteoporosis
Literally means "porous bone." This disease is characterized by too little bone formation, excessive bone loss, or a combination of both, leading to bone fragility and an increased risk of fractures of the hip, spine and wrist.
Paget Disease
A bone disease that causes bones to grow larger and weaker than normal.
Rheumatologist
Doctors who diagnose and treat diseases of the bones, joints, muscles, and tendons, including arthritis and collagen diseases.
Tissue
A group of cells that act together to carry out a specific function in the body. Examples include muscle tissue, nervous system tissue (including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves), and connective tissue (including ligaments, tendons, bones, and fat). Organs are made up of tissues.

More about Arthritis

Photo of an adult

See Also: Psoriatic Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis

Other terms to know: See all 6
Inflammation, Joints, Osteoporosis

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