The word arthritis means inflammation of a joint or joints. The inflammation is usually accompanied by pain, and can be caused by many underlying disorders. Conditions labelled arthritis fall under two main categories, inflammatory, and degenerative. This article looks at the most common conditions associated with each category, Osteoarthritis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Information regarding other, less common, forms of arthritis can be found here.
Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis have many similarities in presentation, with the main symptom of both being joint pain. However, they have very different causes, and treatments, so it's important to find out exactly what you are dealing with.
Please note: This article is not intended for self-diagnosis and does not replace the advice of a medical professional.
Osteoarthritis - Causes and Treatment
Osteoarthritis is often referred to as wear and tear arthritis. It is a degenerative condition caused by the wearing away of the cartilage in the joint, and the overgrowth of bone to compensate. It occurs most frequently in the hip, knee, and finger joints. Over time the joints may become misshapen.
Osteoarthritis is more likely if you, are over 50, are obese, have a family history of arthritis, or have previous injured the affected joint.
The identifying factors of osteoarthritis are:
- Joint pain and swelling which worsens when the affected joint is used.
- Stiffness in the mornings which lasts less than 30 minutes.
There is no cure for osteoarthritis. Mild cases can be controlled with regular exercise to keep joints supple, and pain relief medications. Losing excess weight is also recommended. For more severe pain a doctor may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or opioid medications such as codeine.
Other treatment options may include, electrical devices (TENS machines), heat and cold packs, physiotherapy, or even surgery. Further information on treatment options for osteoarthritis can be found here.
Rheumatoid Arthritis - Causes and Treatment
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. It is a result of the body's immune system attacking the healthy tissue of the joint causing inflammation, and eventually resulting in damage.
No-one is sure what causes the immune system to malfunction in this way. It is thought that genes play a part, but hormonal and environmental factors may also contribute.
The identifying factors of rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Throbbing or aching joints, which get worse after inactivity.
- Morning stiffness which lasts for longer than 30 minutes, or gets worse with rest.
- Swelling of the joints, accompanied by redness, which feels warm to the touch.
- Fatigue or flu-like symptoms may also be reported, due to the autoimmune origins of the condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis cannot be cured, but its progression can be slowed with the right treatment. It is therefore vital to speak to your doctor to confirm diagnosis. Pain control can be provided with either over the counter medications, prescribed anti-inflammatories or opioids, or corticosteroids. Drugs called Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biological treatments in the form of injections, may also be used under medical supervision. These work by reducing the effects of the chemical attack on the joints caused by the faulty immune system.
Physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and surgery are sometimes indicated in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. More in-depth information on the range of treatments for rheumatoid arthritis can be found here.
While neither osteoarthritis, nor rheumatoid arthritis, can be cured, they can be managed with the correct diagnosis and treatment. Several charities exist to provide practical tips and emotional support to people living with arthritis including Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research UK.