Common Types of Arthritis Explained
By: Dr. Abe Kopolovich, DPT, MBA, JD-IP
Arthritis is a painful rheumatic condition that causes joint inflammation. There are many different types of arthritis that can affect the joints and other areas of the body and cause similar symptoms, such as pain, swelling, and stiffness.
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. Some common types of arthritis include osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and psoriatic arthritis (PsA).
Below, we explore these conditions, as well as other diseases that can present with arthritis. We also discuss potential treatment and when to seek medical guidance.
RA does not only affect joints. It can also cause problems in other organs of the body, including the heart, lungs, and eyes.
While some people experience a sustained progression of the disease, the intensity of symptoms usually comes and goes. Symptoms may include:
- pain, stiffness, and swelling in several joints at once
- unexplained weight loss
Another characteristic of RA is symmetrical involvement. This means pain and signs of inflammation occur on both sides of the body and in the same joints.
RA can cause lasting tissue damage, which can lead to:
- recurring pain
- destruction of joints
- deformity or incorrect alignment of joints
- limited joint mobility
Some people who have RA may also need assistance walking.
PsA is an autoimmune condition.
Symptoms of PsA include:
- swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints
- extreme fatigue
- nail changes
PsA joint involvement is asymmetric, affecting different joints on either side of the body.
This type of arthritis can develop in people with a skin condition called psoriasis, which causes scaly, flushed, or silvery patches of skin. These patches can look different depending on a person’s skin color.
Symptoms of gout can flare up and go away quickly. They include:
- pain and swelling
- flushed skin
- a joint that feels hot to the touch
Swelling is common in the big toe. Often, it also affects the knee or ankle joint.
A person may be at higher risk of developing gout if they:
- are male
- have overweight or obesity
- take certain medications, such as diuretics or beta-blockers
- drink alcohol
- follow a diet rich in purines or fructose
Health conditions that may lead to gout include:
Gout may also occur due to metabolic syndrome, which is not a condition in itself. It refers to several characteristics, diseases, or habits that can make a person more likely to experience other health conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, or diabetes.
While symptoms may differ from person to person, they generally include:
- joint and muscle pain
- fever during flare-ups
- hair loss
- chest pain
- kidney issues
- sores in the mouth and nose
- chronic fatigue
- problems with memory
- eye irritation, dryness, and inflammation
- cold sensitivity with color changes of the hands and feet
Juvenile arthritis, also known as childhood arthritis, affects children or even infants.
Reaching a definitive diagnosis may take time because many types of arthritis are similar or resemble other conditions.
Typically, a doctor will first check a person’s medical and family history. They will also ask about symptoms and perform a physical exam. They may run tests such as:
- imaging tests, including X-rays, MRI scans, or ultrasound scans
- nerve tests
- blood tests
- joint fluid tests
- skin or muscle biopsies
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Arthritis management depends on the type of arthritis. There are different forms of treatment available.
Surgery may not be necessary for everyone with arthritis. However, it can benefit certain complications of arthritis that result in malalignment of joints and functional limitations due to damaged joints. It can also help with intractable pain, which is when a person experiences pain that is difficult to treat or manage.
Common surgeries for arthritis include:
- foot, ankle, hand, or wrist surgery
- hip or knee replacement surgery
Physical therapy can be a great option for people with arthritis. It can help ease pain or increase activity.
Behavioral changes that can help with arthritis may include:
- getting regular exercise
- quitting smoking, if applicable
- reaching or maintaining a moderate weight
- eating a healthful diet
When to contact a doctor
If a person has experienced joint symptoms that last more than 3 days, they should seek treatment from a healthcare professional.
Similarly, if a person has joint symptoms at different times within a month, they should also contact a doctor.
Living with arthritis
Medications and other treatments can help a person manage chronic symptoms, such as pain and swelling.
Pain will come and go with many types of arthritis. However, even if the pain resolves, a person should still seek treatment.
It is important to treat arthritis early. If left untreated, some types of arthritis may worsen over time and cause permanent disability.
Arthritis is a painful condition that causes joint inflammation.
Different types of arthritis can cause similar symptoms. It is vital to get the correct diagnosis, as it can help determine the most effective treatment options.
The right treatment may also prevent future complications and help a person live a more active