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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

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.

Patient education shows short‐term benefits for adults with rheumatoid arthritis.

The purpose was to examine the effectiveness of patient education interventions on health status (pain, functional disability, psychological well‐being and disease activity) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Patient education had a small beneficial effect at first follow‐up for disability, joint counts, patient global assessment, psychological status, and depression. At final follow‐up (3‐14 months) no evidence of significant benefits was found.

Injectable gold for treating rheumatoid arthritis

Although its use can be limited by the incidence of serious harms, injectable gold has an important clinically and statistically significant benefit in the short term treatment of patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

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Summaries for consumers

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.

How is early rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

It can be difficult to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis early on in the disease. In the first few weeks and months, the symptoms are often mild and not always typical. But it's still important to try to diagnose and treat rheumatoid arthritis as soon as possible. It is thought that early treatment helps to stop the progression of the disease.Some of the non-specific symptoms include general weakness, exhaustion, tiredness and weight loss. Other early signs include a slight fever, as well as achy bones and muscles. But people might also experience more typical rheumatoid arthritis symptoms such as swollen joints.If you're concerned about non-specific symptoms, you can see a doctor. Tests specifically for rheumatoid arthritis will be recommended at the latest ifthree or more joints have been swollen for at least six weeks,the same joints are swollen on both sides of the body, and/oryour joints feel stiff for at least one hour each morning.

Can psychological therapy and patient education programs help to cope with rheumatoid arthritis?

Patient education programs, psychological therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy may help people with rheumatoid arthritis cope in everyday life. Different measures are often combined, such as relaxation techniques, stress management and strategies for expending strength and day-to-day planning.

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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, Juvenile Arthritis

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

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