Written by eHealth Navigator

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a complex family of more than 100 different musculoskeletal disorders that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement.

The disease is the leading cause of disability in the United States and strikes 50 million adults (one in five) and 300,000 children.  Arthritis is a more frequent cause of activity limitation than heart disease, cancer, or diabetes.

Annually, arthritis results in:

•  44 million outpatient visits
•  992,100 hospitalizations
•  9,367 deaths
•  21 million people with activity limitations
•  $128 billion cost to U.S. economy

Not all casues of arthritis are understood, and there are not yet cures for the disease, but there are a broad range of treatment alternatives geared toward relieving pain, improving mobility and preventing additional damage.  These include:

•  Lifestyle changes such as exercise programs, physical therapy, massage and diet
•  Medications, always with guidance of a doctor, including prescription meds, over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements
•  Surgery for joint repair or replacement as required

Common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), lupus, gout, and fibromyalgia.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is a progressive degenerative joint disease characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage.  Symptoms may include joint pain, tenderness, stiffness, locking, and sometimes an effusion. A variety of causes—hereditary, developmental, metabolic, and mechanical—may initiate processes leading to loss of cartilage. When bone surfaces become less well protected by cartilage, bone may be exposed and damaged. As a result of decreased movement secondary to pain, regional muscles may atrophy, and ligaments may become more lax.  If pain becomes debilitating joint replacement surgery may be used to improve the quality of life.  It affects nearly 27 million Americans most over the age of 45, and is associated with risk factors such as obesity, a history of joint injury and age.

Reheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic disease characterized by the inflamation of membranes lining the joints, causing pain, stiffness, swelling and often severe joint damage.  Rheumatoid arthritis not only affects the joints, but may also attack tissue in the skin, lungs, eyes, and blood vessels. People with rheumatoid arthritis may feel sick, tired, and sometimes feverish. Rheumatoid arthritis generally occurs in a symmetrical pattern. This means that if one knee or hand is involved, the other one is, too. It can occur at any age, but usually begins during a person's most productive years.  About 1.5 million people in the U.S. have RA, more women than men.

Lupus is a chronic infammatory disease that can affect various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints and kidneys.  As many as 1.5 millioin in the U.S. are affected, wome than men.

Gout occurs when a buildup of uric acid in the body causes crystal-like deposits to travel to the jints, causing sudden, severe attacks of pain and tenderness, redness, warmth and swelling.  Gout affects about 8.3 million people in the U.S., and is more prevalent in men.

Fibromyalgia, characterized by generalized muscular pain and fatigue, affects approximately 5 million people, and is more common in women.

For more information go to: and Also, the Arthritsis Foundation provides more information about the disease at www.arthritis .org.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 November 2013 5:24PM