What Is Arthritis?

What Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term that covers more than 100 related conditions.

These conditions range from relatively mild problems affecting just one area of the body (such as tendinitis) to very serious diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis) that affect the whole body and can cause severe pain and deformity. The one thing all of these conditions have in common is that they cause joint and musculoskeletal pain. One in six Canadians age 15 and over report having arthritis.

The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis, which occurs when the cartilage that covers and cushions bone ends breaks down and wears away. This causes pain when the bone ends rub against each other. It affects about 10% of Canadian adults. There is also a rare type of osteoarthritis called inflammatory osteoarthritis that is more severe, affects multiple joints, and causes more morning stiffness along with warmth and redness of the joints. This form of the disease is often confused with rheumatoid arthritis.

About 1% of Canadians have rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis, the second most common form, is a systemic disease, which means it affects the whole body. In rheumatoid arthritis, the body's immune system attacks its own tissues—most often the lining of the joints, but sometimes other body parts as well (such as the eyes, lungs, or heart). About 1% of Canadians have rheumatoid arthritis.

When does arthritis strike?

Although it is often thought of as a disease of the elderly, arthritis can affect anyone at any age, including babies and children. In fact, nearly 60% of people with arthritis are under the age of 65, and it affects both sexes.

Before the age of 45, osteoarthritis is more common among men than women, but after age 45 it affects more women. Past the age of 60, it affects men and woman equally.

Rheumatoid arthritis appears most often between the ages of 25 and 50, and it affects women three times more often than men.

What are some common arthritis symptoms?

Common symptoms of arthritis include:

  • inability to move a joint normally
  • recurring pain or tenderness in a joint
  • swelling in one or more joints
  • redness or warmth in a joint

In osteoarthritis, the pain is often worse after using a joint and improves with rest. You may wake up with stiff joints, but the stiffness generally lasts only about 15 to 20 minutes.

In rheumatoid arthritis, pain and stiffness in the morning are common, and they usually last at least 30 to 60 minutes.

If you experience any of these signs, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can limit the damage and control the symptoms.

Which joints are most susceptible?

Different forms of arthritis tend to affect different joints. The joints affected by osteoarthritis are:

  • end and middle joints of the fingers
  • joint at the base of the thumb
  • hips
  • knees
  • joint at the base of the big toe
  • neck (cervical spine)
  • lower back (lumbar spine)

Rheumatoid arthritis most often affects:

  • finger joints
  • wrists
  • shoulders
  • elbows
  • knees
  • ankles
  • feet

Rheumatoid arthritis usually affects joints equally on both sides of the body—for example, if you have it in one ankle, you are likely to have it in both ankles.

What can I do about the pain?

Exercise will strengthen the muscles surrounding the affected joint, which helps to support and stabilize the area. Exercise can also promote flexibility and lessen stiffness. Both physical therapy and recreational exercising can help, but you should discuss your plans with your doctor first to ensure that the activities you select are appropriate for you.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil Arthritis Pain can relieve minor pain from inflammation associated with arthritis.

Lifestyle changes such as staying off your feet periodically during the day or picking up objects with both hands instead of one can provide relief to sore joints. Maintaining a healthy weight can take unnecessary weight off your joints.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as Advil Arthritis Pain can relieve minor pain from inflammation associated with arthritis. Cold wraps and heat wraps may also provide some relief. For chronic, severe pain, your doctor may recommend a prescription medication.

When should I see a doctor?

If you are experiencing arthritis symptoms, see your doctor right away. A proper diagnosis can help you get the right treatment.