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Common Arthritis Types and What to Do About Them

Common Arthritis Types and What to Do About Them

Common Arthritis Types and What to Do About Them

Arthritis is inflammation in the joints. About 1 in 4 American adults will have arthritis during their lifetime, but this doesn’t mean everyone has the same experiences or symptoms or needs the same treatments. There are more than 100 arthritis types, but some are much more common than others. Arthritis may be caused by an injury, wear and tear, or autoimmune diseases. Knowing the warning signs and finding out which type you have is crucial to managing arthritis.

Arthritis Symptoms

Even though the root cause of each type of arthritis is not the same, most types cause similar symptoms, including:

  • Joint pain, ranging from mild to severe
  • Stiffness in the affected joint
  • Swelling in the joints — though, depending on the type of arthritis, the swelling may feel hard or soft
  • Warmth in the joints

There is no cure for arthritis, but it is manageable in most cases. The goals of treating arthritis are to decrease inflammation and pain and maintain joint function.

“You can have arthritis and still be productive and enjoy life,” said Internal Medicine Physician and Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Director Dr. Israel Stewart. “Most people feel a lot better with treatment.”

Common Arthritis Types

Many arthritis types are uncommon. However, there are several common forms, including:

  • Gout. Caused by a build-up of tiny, sharp crystals in the joint. Gout often starts as sudden, intense pain and swelling where the big toe meets the foot.
  • Lyme arthritis. This type of arthritis can start after being bitten by a tick carrying Lyme disease.
  • Psoriatic arthritis. This type usually happens in people with psoriasis. Along with joint pain, it may cause other problems in the body, such as scaly skin rashes and bowel problems.

Arthritis is diagnosed through:

  • A physical exam
  • Blood tests
  • X-rays or other imaging tests
  • Your medical history and symptoms

The Most Common Type of Arthritis: Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is caused when tissue and cartilage break down, not necessarily from wear and tear. It often gets worse with age. You may have this type of arthritis in one or two joints or in several. It’s common in the hands, hips, and knees.

Depending on the amount of joint damage, osteoarthritis pain can range from mild to severe.

Treatment for Osteoarthritis

Typically with osteoarthritis, the more active someone is, the more pain they will have. Still, exercise is vital to overall health. Finding a balance between staying active and not overdoing it is essential.

Other strategies for managing the symptoms of osteoarthritis include:

  • Arthritis gloves or socks that provide gentle pressure and warmth
  • Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory creams, gels, and sprays that are applied to the skin over the joint
  • Over-the-counter oral pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen
  • Using adaptive equipment, such as an electric can opener or zipper pull
  • Wearing gloves and dressing in layers in cold weather

It’s a good idea to talk with your provider about how much over-the-counter medication you should take. These medications can damage your kidneys or cause unwanted side effects.

Your provider may recommend physical therapy to help manage pain and maintain range of motion. You may also need to see an orthopedic specialist if your pain is severe or prevents you from doing everyday tasks. An orthopedist can offer more options to treat osteoarthritis, from steroid injections to surgical joint replacement.

The Most Common Autoimmune Arthritis Type: Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a type of autoimmune disease. The immune system’s job is to fight bacteria, viruses, and other harmful invaders in the body. When you have an autoimmune disease, it also attacks healthy cells and tissues. RA attacks the tissue in the joints and may also attack other parts of the body, including the heart and other organs.

Unlike osteoarthritis, which only affects a localized area of the body, RA and other types of autoimmune arthritis can affect the whole body. Women are two to three times more likely to get RA than men.

RA causes joint pain and stiffness that are typically worse in the morning. Joint pain is often paired with other symptoms, such as fevers, loss of appetite, and low energy.

This type of arthritis often runs in families. If you have a close family member with RA, tell your doctor so they can start watching for signs of the disease.

“Rheumatoid arthritis can cause severe issues, but it is a manageable condition,” Stewart said. “If you catch it early and follow the treatment plan, it's not going to completely alter your life for the worse. There is hope.”

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

RA can cause significant pain and may not respond well to typical over-the-counter pain medications. However, staying active can help manage the pain of RA. It’s common for people with RA to have less pain as the day goes on.

There are prescription medications available to treat RA. Typically treatment starts with an oral medication that is taken either daily or once a week. Your provider may prescribe more than one medication at a time. If the pills don’t work or don’t work well enough, your provider may add or switch you to an injectable medication. These are usually taken once every two weeks.

Taking breaks throughout the day can help manage RA symptoms. You can also use heating pads to decrease stiffness or cold packs to lower inflammation and swelling. Like with osteoarthritis, physical therapy can also help manage RA.

“Early treatment for autoimmune arthritis helps preserve the joints,” Stewart said. “If you wait until the joints totally break down, there won’t be many effective treatment options. But if you address it early and get the inflammation down and under control, you can maintain joint function for years to come.”

A Surprising Cause of Arthritis

“A lot of people don’t realize that you can get arthritis from a virus, but you can,” Stewart said. “You may have an upper respiratory virus and then start having unusual joint pain and swelling a week or two later.”

Stewart has seen more virus-related arthritis since the COVID-19 pandemic began. He recommends seeing your provider if you notice new joint pain after an illness.

How to Prevent Arthritis

It’s not possible to completely prevent arthritis. Still, there are things you can do to help protect your joints and reduce inflammation.

To slow joint damage and help manage symptoms:

  • Avoid processed foods.
  • Don’t smoke or use other tobacco products.
  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and other antioxidant-rich foods.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to lower stress on the joints.
  • Participate in low-impact exercise for at least 150 minutes per week.
  • Wear gloves and other protective gear to absorb shock during heavy work.

When to See Your Provider

See your provider as soon as you notice new or worsening joint pain. There’s no reason to suffer through the pain. Plus, getting early treatment can help prevent or slow down damage to your joints. This means better joint function, improved quality of life, and less joint pain overall. It may also help you prevent or put off more invasive treatment options, like joint replacement surgeries.

Talk with a Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County provider to learn more about managing the symptoms of arthritis.