What is Arthritis?

What is Arthritis?


Hello, I’m Wendy Holden and I’m a consultant rheumatologist and medical advisor to Arthritis Action The word arthritis literally means inflammation in the joints Arthritis is thought to affect about 10 million people in the UK and is the most common cause of disability Inflammation in the joints, which is not the same thing as an infection is a difficult thing to imagine But can be thought of as being similar to a bruise or fluid inside the joint which can cause pain Stiffness and swelling as well as reduced function there are many different types of arthritis, but there are just two main sorts and these are osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis The first and most common type of arthritis is Osteoarthritis which is also wrongly called wear and tear or degenerative arthritis This is more common as we get older The words degeneration and wear and tear are very misleading words And they’re unfortunately ones that are often used by doctors and other healthcare professionals to describe osteoarthritis Just the use of these words can cause a lot of unnecessary Worry and lead to people with osteoarthritis believing that they’ve somehow caused their arthritis by hard work or That they should rest to avoid damaging the joints. Both of these ideas are completely wrong Osteoarthritis isn’t caused by hard work or exercise and it’s rest rather than exercise that can make the pain of arthritis worse Experts now know that osteoarthritis is not caused by wear and tear or joint degeneration But that the pain of arthritis is due to the body’s own attempt at repairing small areas of cartilage injury Inside the joint and this then causes fluid and swelling inside the joint Once this healing process has ended the pain of osteoarthritis can actually settle completely Although there may be some residual boney swelling left on the outside of the joints For example at the end of the joints of the fingers This is a picture of osteoarthritis in one finger. This joint looks alarming but is actually completely painless First of all, I’m going to talk about osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis the risk of osteoarthritis Increases with age but is not inevitable as we get older osteoarthritis Commonly effects the base of the thumbs the joints at the end of the fingers the knees and hips and the neck and low back Where it is called spondylosis This is a picture of osteoarthritis affecting the small finger joints There are certain risks for developing osteoarthritis. For example, it’s more common in women It can run in families, especially osteoarthritis of the fingers Osteoarthritis is much more common in people who are overweight Especially in the weight-bearing joints such as the knees hips and ankles Osteoarthritis is more common in a joints where there’s been a severe injury for example, a broken bone or a sporting injury but the good news is that Osteoarthritis is definitely not caused by too much exercise or hard work Elite athletes or marathon runners are not more likely to develop osteoarthritis Unless they’ve had an injury to the joint the most common symptoms of osteoarthritis are pain and joint tenderness Stiffness Especially after rest and in the mornings and the stiffness usually lasts for less than 30 minutes. There can be some joint swelling The swelling and pain is usually in one or a few joints at a time The symptoms of osteoarthritis can sometimes be worse after activity for example after gardening? But in general gentle exercise can help with stiffness and pain and is to be recommended Osteoarthritis is diagnosed by having typical symptoms a variable joint pain and stiffness And although x-rays of joints are often requested They’re not strictly speaking necessary to diagnose osteoarthritis x-rays of the neck and low back are especially unhelpful as after a certain age We all have some changes of osteoarthritis visible on the x-rays and these often don’t explain the course of the pain Joints that the completely normal and x-ray can be very painful and very abnormal joints on x-ray are often completely painless The pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis can sometimes be a problem for a few weeks or months? But it can often settle completely the most important thing to remember If you’re going through a bad patch with pain and stiffness in your joints is that pain does not Mean that there is progressive joint damage and that the pain will not inevitably get worse often the pain of osteoarthritis Can improve with time and there’s a lot that you can do in terms of self management to help yourself The second main type of arthritis is called inflammatory arthritis Such as rheumatoid arthritis Where something goes wrong with the immune system which then starts to attack the joints This can cause swelling pain and stiffness and without effective treatments can lead to joint damage Inflammatory arthritis affects people of all ages including very young children another common type of inflammatory arthritis is called crystal Arthritis such as gout where crystals in the joint caused attacks of severe joint pain connected with redness and swelling Inflammatory arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis Often starts in younger people and it usually causes much more joint swelling and stiffness than osteoarthritis This is often symmetrical the joint stiffness in inflammatory arthritis Is typically much worse in the mornings and can last for several hours Different joints are often affected by rheumatoid arthritis Especially the wrists small joints of the hands and feet but also larger joints such as the ankles Shoulders and knee’s In inflammatory arthritis people often find it difficult to grip Especially in the mornings and this tends to improve as the day goes on This picture of untreated rheumatoid arthritis Shows both hands affected by swelling in the wrists knuckles and small finger joints If inflammatory arthritis is left untreated Severe joint damage can occur and this can cause significant disability Fortunately, there are extremely effective medical treatments for inflammatory arthritis Which can help prevent this joint damage and also prevent disability

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