All About Arthritis

Arthritis means inflammation of the joints. It includes more than 100 different diseases that may have similar symptoms. You may have arthritis if you feel pain, stiffness, and swelling in one or more joints. Symptoms can start suddenly or gradually. And they can be present all the time or come and go.

Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types of arthritis. They are different in some important ways. Knowing more about how your joints work can help you to better understand these differences.

A joint is where the ends of your bones come together. Your knee is a good example. Smooth tissue called cartilage covers the ends of each bone. A thin pouch of fibrous material called a joint capsule surrounds each joint. Lining the capsule is a membrane—a soft, thin layer of tissue.

Osteoarthritis is also known as degenerative joint disease.

Most people who get osteoarthritis are older than age 40.

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage on the ends of bones wears away. When the cartilage breaks down, the membrane lining the joint capsule becomes inflamed. New bone and cartilage may form, creating hard swellings on the joint.

It usually develops in large joints that support body weight, such as the hips, knees, and lower back. But other joints can be affected.

Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease and may affect the body beyond the joints. It often first affects the hands, feet, or wrists. It attacks the same joints on both sides of the body. It may then spread to the eyes, lungs, nerves, heart, and skin.

People of any age can develop rheumatoid arthritis. But it is more common in women between ages 30 to 60.

Rheumatoid arthritis attacks the membrane lining of a joint capsule. The membrane thickens and fluid accumulates as part of the inflammation process. The inflamed membrane can also damage cartilage, bone, and soft tissue.


Figuring out what type of arthritis you have and how to treat it starts with a medical history and exam. Your provider will ask questions about your symptoms and any other medical conditions you may have. He or she will look for swelling, redness, tenderness, or loss of motion. You may have other tests to help measure joint damage and rule out other conditions.

Blood tests can detect inflammation and help determine how severe it is and whether it’s affecting areas beyond the joints. You may also need other tests, such as a urine test, if symptoms suggest rheumatoid arthritis.

X-rays may show whether arthritis has destroyed cartilage or worn away bone.

People with arthritis in more than one joint may need to see a doctor who specializes in treating arthritis and rheumatic diseases. This type of doctor is called a rheumatologist.


Treatment for arthritis may reduce your joint pain. It may also help keep joints flexible. Sometimes, treatment may even slow down joint damage.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs called NSAIDS can treat pain and other symptoms of arthritis. Some common NSAIDs are ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin. Other drugs, called disease-modifying drugs or DMARDS - may be prescribed for rheumatoid arthritis.

Prednisone or another corticosteroid may also be prescribed. Injections of these drugs can relieve joint pain and swelling from inflammation.

In addition to medication, weight loss may help your arthritis, as can physical, occupational, and water therapy.

What We Have Learned

  1. Osteoarthritis occurs mostly in older people. True or False?
    The answer is True. Osteoarthritis is most common in people older than 40.

  2. Rheumatoid arthritis only affects the joints. True or False?
    The answer is False. Rheumatoid arthritis may spread to the eyes, lungs, nerves, heart, and skin.