The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis, involves wear-and-tear damage to your joint’s cartilage — the hard, slick coating on the ends of bones. Enough damage can result in bone grinding directly on bone, which causes pain and restricted movement. This wear and tear can occur over many years, or it can be hastened by a joint injury or infection.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule, a tough membrane that encloses all the joint parts. This lining, known as the synovial membrane, becomes inflamed and swollen. The disease process can eventually destroy cartilage and bone within the joint.
Gout develops when an excess of uric acid accumulates in your joints and forms crystals. This leads to inflammation and severe pain, which usually comes on suddenly and is described as a gout “attack”. If a susceptible individual is untreated, these attacks can occur multiple times a year and become disabling.
Depending on the type of arthritis you have, your signs and symptoms may include:
- Decreased range of motion
- Family history. Some types of arthritis run in families, so you may be more likely to develop arthritis if your parents or siblings have the disorder. Your genes can make you more susceptible to environmental factors that may trigger arthritis.
- The risk of many types of arthritis increases with age.
- Your gender. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis, while men are more likely to develop gout.
- Previous joint injury. People who have injured a joint, perhaps while playing a sport, are more likely to eventually develop arthritis in that joint.
- Carrying excess pounds puts stress on joints and can lead to increased uric acid.
Severe arthritis, particularly if it affects your hands or arms, can make it difficult for you to do daily tasks. Arthritis of weight-bearing joints can keep you from walking comfortably or sitting up straight. In some cases, joints may become twisted and deformed.
During the physical exam, your doctor will check your joints for swelling, redness and warmth. He or she will also want to see how well you can move your joints.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis is performed through a lab test and imaging tests. Arthritis treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and improving joint function. Medications and physical therapy are typically what doctors recommend first. If these measures don’t help, your doctor may suggest joint repair, joint replacement or joint fusion surgery.