What is it?

"Arthritis" literally means joint inflammation. Although joint inflammation is a symptom or sign rather than a specific diagnosis, the term arthritis is often used to refer to any disorder that affects the joints. Joints are places where two bones meet, such as your elbow or knee.

There are different types of arthritis. In some diseases in which arthritis occurs, other organs, such as your eyes, heart, or skin, can also be affected.

Fortunately, current treatments allow most people with arthritis to lead active and productive lives.

Representation of a normal and other joint affected by arthritis

What are the types?

There are several types of arthritis. Common ones include:

  • Ankylosing Spondylitis is arthritis that affects the spine. It often involves redness, heat, swelling, and pain in the spine or in the joint where the bottom of the spine joins the pelvic bone.
  • Gout is caused by crystals that build up in the joints. It usually affects the big toe, but many other joints may be affected.
  • Juvenile Arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis in children. Arthritis is caused by inflammation of the joints.
  • Osteoarthritis usually comes with age and most often affects the fingers, knees, and hips. Sometimes osteoarthritis follows a joint injury. For example, you might have badly injured your knee when young and develop arthritis in your knee joint years later.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis can occur in people who have psoriasis (scaly red and white skin patches). It affects the skin, joints, and areas where tissues attach to bone. 
  • Reactive Arthritis is pain or swelling in a joint that is caused by an infection in your body. You may also have red, swollen eyes and a swollen urinary tract.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis happens when the body’s own defense system doesn’t work properly. It affects joints and bones (often of the hands and feet), and may also affect internal organs and systems. You may feel sick or tired, and you may have a fever.

Arthritis is seen with other conditions. These include:

  • Lupus happens when the body’s defense system harms the joints, heart, skin, kidneys, and other organs.
  • Infection that gets into a joint and destroys the cushion between the bones.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of arthritis can include:

  • Pain, redness, heat, and swelling in your joints. 
  • Trouble moving around.
  • Fever.
  • Weight loss.
  • Breathing problems.
  • Rash or itch.

These symptoms may also be signs of other illnesses.

What causes it?

There are probably many genes that make people more likely to have arthritis. Research has found some of these genes.

If you have the gene linked with arthritis, something in your environment—such as a virus or injury—may trigger the condition.

Is there a test?

To diagnosis you with arthritis or another rheumatic disease, your doctor may:

  • Ask you about your medical history.
  • Give you a physical exam.
  • Take samples for a laboratory test.
  • Take x-rays.

How is it treated?

There are many treatments that can help relieve pain and help you live with arthritis. You should talk to your doctor about the best treatments for you, which can include:

  • Medications to relieve pain, slow the condition, and prevent further damage.
  • Surgery to repair joint damage or relieve pain.

Who treats it?

Doctors who diagnose and treat arthritis and other rheumatic disease include:

  • A general practitioner, such as your family doctor.
  • A rheumatologist, who treats arthritis and other diseases of the bones, joints, and muscles.

Living With It

There are many things you can do to help you live with arthritis and other rheumatic diseases, including:

  • Take your medications when and how you’re supposed to.
  • Exercise to reduce joint pain and stiffness. It also helps with losing weight, which reduces stress on the joints. You should speak to your doctor about a safe, well-rounded exercise program.
  • Use heat and cold therapies to reduce joint pain and swelling.
  • Try relaxation therapy to help reduce pain by learning ways to relax your muscles.
  • Use splints and braces to support weakened joints or allow them to rest. You should see your doctor to make sure your splint or brace fits well.
  • Use assistive devices, such as a cane or shoe insert, to ease pain when walking. Other devices can help you open a jar, close zippers, or hold pencils.