Condition: Arthritis

Arthritis is a long-term condition that occurs when the cartilage that lines a joint is worn away due to wear and tear.

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What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term for conditions that affect the joints, surrounding tissues and other connective tissues. Arthritis develops over time when the cartilage surrounding a joint begins to wear away and deteriorate, causing pain and inflammation.

There are over 100 types of arthritis, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis being the most prevalent. This common condition can affect any joint in the body, although the hands, feet, knees, hips and spine are often most affected.

What causes arthritis?

There’s no known cause for most types of arthritis, but there are several factors that can increase the risk of their development. These include:

  • Family history – Some types of arthritis are hereditary
  • Age – Arthritis can affect develop at any age but the risk of most types increases with age.
  • Gender – The risk of developing a certain type of arthritis can depend on gender. Women are three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men and twice as likely to develop osteoarthritis
  • Prior joint injury – Joint injury as a result of sport or an accident increases the likelihood of arthritis developing in the joint at a later stage
  • Weight – Having a higher body weight puts stress and strain on the joints, increasing the risk of developing arthritis

An arthritis diagnosis can be made by assessing a patient's medical history and performing a physical examination to evaluate the joints. X-rays and blood tests may be used to confirm a diagnosis.

What are the symptoms of arthritis?

The severity of arthritis symptoms can range from mild to severe. Specific symptoms can also depend on the type of arthritis, but often include:

  • Inflammation, swelling, pain, and stiffness in and around the joints
  • Diminished or restricted range of motion
  • Warm red skin over the affected joint
  • Muscle wasting and weakness

What are the treatment options for arthritis?

The main aim of arthritis treatments is to manage and reduce symptoms to improve quality of life. The type of treatment used will depend on the type of arthritis and the degree of the condition, with a range of less to more invasive options:

  • Medications – A combination of anti-inflammatories, painkillers, biologics and corticosteroids can be used to manage pain, swelling and inflammation
  • Physiotherapy – Therapist-led exercises can help improve joint range of motion and strength
  • Therapeutic injections – Steroid injections into the joint, guided by ultrasound or X-ray, can be used to temporarily relieve arthritis pain and inflammation
  • Surgery – If conservative treatments have been unsuccessful, surgery may be required in the form of arthroscopy, joint replacement or joint fusion