Arthritis may be caused by inflammation of the tissue lining the joints. Some signs of inflammation include redness, heat, pain, and swelling.
• Arthritis and related conditions can affect anyone, no matter what their race. Osteoarthritis, the common form of arthritis in African Americans, affects all races in similar frequency. However, gout and lupus affect more African Americans than people of other races.
• African-American men are twice as likely as Caucasian men to have gout, while African American women are more likely to have lupus than Caucasian women.
Arthritis often results from years of wear and tear on joints. This wear and tear mostly affects the cartilage, the tissue that cushions the ends of bones within the joint. Arthritis occurs when the cartilage begins to fray, wear away, and decay. Putting too much stress on a joint that has been previously injured, improper alignment of joints, and excess weight all may contribute to the development.
Different types of arthritis have different symptoms. In general, people with most forms of arthritis have pain and stiffness in their joints.
Arthritis usually develops slowly and can occur in any joint, but often occurs in weight bearing joints. Early in the disease, joints may ache after physical work or exercise. Most often, arthritis occurs in the hands, hips, knees, neck, or low back.
Common signs include:
- joint pain, swelling, and tenderness
- stiffness after getting out of bed
- a crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone.
Not everyone with arthritis feels pain, however. In fact, only a third of people with x-ray evidence of arthritis report pain or other symptoms. In fact, only a third of people with x-ray evidence of arthritis report pain or other symptoms.
Exams and Tests
To make a diagnosis of arthritis, most doctors use a combination of methods and tests including a medical history, a physical examination, x-rays, and laboratory tests.
- A medical history is the patient’s description of symptoms and when and how they began. The description covers pain, stiffness, and joint function, and how these have changed over time.
- A physical examination includes the doctor’s examination of the joints, skin, reflexes, and muscle strength. The doctor observes the patient’s ability to walk, bend, and carry out activities of daily living.
- X-rays are limited in their capacity to reveal how much joint damage may have occurred in osteoarthritis. X-rays usually don’t show osteoarthritis damage until there has been a significant loss of cartilage.
Arthritis treatment plans often include ways to manage pain and improve function. Such plans can include exercise, rest and joint care, pain relief, weight control, medicines, surgery, and non-traditional treatment approaches.
Lifestyle changes are the preferred treatment for osteoarthritis and other types of joint inflammation. Exercise can help relieve stiffness, reduce pain and fatigue, and improve muscle and bone strength. Your health care team can help you design an exercise program that is best for you.
Medications may be prescribed along with lifestyle changes. All medications have risks, some more than others. It is important that you are closely monitored by a doctor when taking arthritis medications.
Surgery and Other Treatments
In some cases, surgery may be done if other treatments have not worked. This may include:
- Arthroplasty to rebuild the joint
- Joint replacement, such as a total knee joint replacement
Complications of arthritis include:
- Long-term (chronic) pain
- Difficulty performing daily activities
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor if:
- Your joint pain persists beyond 3 days.
- You have severe unexplained joint pain.
- The affected joint is significantly swollen.
- You have a hard time moving the joint.
- Your skin around the joint is red or hot to the touch.
- You have a fever or have lost weight unintentionally.
Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent joint damage. If you have a family history of arthritis, tell your doctor, even if you do not have joint pain. Also, avoiding excessive, repeated motions may help protect you against osteoarthritis.