Health care providers categorize the disorder as an autoimmune disease that typically affects joints but may also affect the eyes, skin, internal organs and blood vessels. When affecting joints, pain, swelling and stiffness occurs. Symptoms commonly appear symmetrically, developing in the hands or other paired joints. Some experience symptoms gradually, which extend over a period of years and increase in intensity. Symptom onset might occur more rapidly for others. A percentage of patients endure the disease chronically while others have sporadic attacks and remissions. People of all ages or genders may develop the disorder but women suffer from this type of arthritis three times more often than men.
Environmental, genetic and hormonal factors may contribute to the onslaught of the disease but the specific cause remains unknown. Some researchers believe that bacterial or viral infections may trigger the immune system response. Once activated, the immune system travels through the blood into the protective area between the joints called the synovium. Inflammation and swelling begins, which eventually destroys the connective tissue between the joints. The inflammatory process minimizes the distance within the joint and eventually creates friction and deterioration between the bones. Nodules and bone deformation develops.
Diagnosis relies on imaging studies that display the degree of joint involvement along with a series of blood tests. Many people possess a rheumatoid factor in the blood. However, this substance is not always synonymous with the disease. Elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein levels indicate inflammation. Testing positive for antinuclear antibodies generally indicates the occurrence of an autoimmune process. Having cylic citrulline antibodies in the blood usually suggests a more severe form of rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients require over-the-counter and prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications for relieving inflammation and discomfort. Depending on the severity of the condition, physicians might also prescribe corticosteroids and various immune suppressing formulations. Health care providers recommend that rheumatoid arthritis patients rest when flare-ups occur. Exercise during remissions helps maintain overall flexibility. If bone damage and deformation develop, osteopathic surgeons may suggest surgery, which restores varying degrees of joint mobility.
Associated with the breakdown of connective tissue between the joints, osteoarthritis remains the most prevalent type of arthritis occurring in people. The affliction may affect any joint in the body but usually initially develops in the hips, knees and spine, which comprise the locations of the body suffering from the greatest amount of weight bearing stress. The malady may develop in other joints secondary to injury or repeated usage. Over 25 million people suffer from the disorder and the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis increases with age.
The disease process occurs in the rubbery cartilage that normally cushions the ends of the bones that form a joint. As people progress in age, the cartilage loses elasticity and becomes less flexible and shock absorbent. Portions of the cartilage may diminish, which also reduces the joint cushion. If the space between a joint narrows, ligaments and tendons stretch beyond natural limits, causing discomfort. Complete deterioration of the cartilage often causes friction between the bones.
Some individuals inherit a tendency toward developing defective cartilage, which increases the likelihood of developing arthritis. Skeletal anomalies also create an environment for disease occurrence. Being overweight adds stress to weight bearing joints and increases the tendency for developing osteoarthritis. Individuals having excessive blood iron levels, growth hormone or diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis also generally have an increased risk of suffering from this form of arthritis.
The symptoms accompanying this form of arthritis develop gradually and cause aching with normal joint movement. Individuals may also experience pain with extensive over activity of affected joints. Pain and stiffness often occur in the morning after a night of rest. Joints commonly swell. When affecting the hands, bones may become enlarged as the body attempts bone repair.
Diagnosis depends on the description, location and pattern of pain symptoms. Imaging studies often reveal the presence of joint damage. Health care providers commonly prescribe a combination of therapies that include increasing physical exercise, weight loss and anti-inflammatory/analgesic medications. Cold and hot compresses applied to the joints often diminish symptoms of inflammation and encourage healing. Individuals having severe cases might require corticosteroid injections. When affecting ambulation, patients often use canes or crutches that help alleviate weight bearing stress. Correcting deformed joints through surgery is another option.
Gout refers to a type of arthritis caused by the formation of sharp uric crystals called tophi that may deposit in connective tissue, joints or both locations. The crystals develop when the body has a high level of uric acid, which forms as the end product of purine breakdown. Uric acid normally travels through the blood and leaves the body via the kidneys. If the kidneys do not filter enough uric acid, the crystals form. The body contains purine naturally and levels increase when consuming a variety of foods that include anchovies, asparagus or organ meats. Middle aged men more often develop the disorder; however, women are also susceptible to the malady.
Wherever these crystals deposit, individuals experience sudden redness, swelling and varying levels of pain. Attacks frequently occur at night and most commonly affect the great toe. The discomfort becomes so intense that the mere weight of bed linen causes irritation. Gout may also occur in the ankles, feet, knees, hands or wrists. Once an attack occurs, the pain commonly intensifies 12 to 24 hours later. The discomfort lasts anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. If left untreated, the disorder may cause permanent joint damage.
Individuals might inherit the ailment. Medical conditions that include diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol affect circulation and kidney function, which may also increase the likelihood of developing gouty arthritis. Aspirin, thiazide diuretics and anti-rejection medications might also contribute to the disorder.
After acquiring a positive diagnosis through blood tests, medical history and physical examination, physicians often suggest that patients use over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Depending on the severity of the condition, health care providers might also prescribe corticosteroids and anti-gout medications that include cholchicine.
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