Arthritis is commonly called joint pain, and is characterized by joint inflammation. It is a chronic disease that most frequently occurs in the knees, hips and hands, but may also occur in the shoulders. Most other joints are not usually affected. Arthritis is the breakdown of the cartilage, which is the part of a joint that cushions the ends of the bones and allows for movement. Deterioration of the cartilage causes the bones to rub against one another and leads to symptoms including varying levels of pain, swelling, stiffness or a dull ache surrounding the affected joint(s).
A health care professional may diagnose arthritis by clinical examination. This diagnosis may be supported by radiology or blood tests.
The most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Infectious arthritis is a severe disease that may occur as a result of bacteria in other parts of the body, and psoriasis may evolve into psoriatic arthritis. Arthritis may be a symptom of, or present in conjunction with, lupus or gout.
Clinicians who diagnosis arthritis observe for speed and time of onset; patterns in which joints are affected; symmetry of symptoms; stiffness at various times of day (morning vs. after exercise, etc.); gelling (locking after a period of inactivity); factors which exacerbate or relieve the condition; and overall systemic symptoms.
Primary arthritis may occur in the elderly simply due to wear and tear of the joints over one’s lifetime, while secondary arthritis is more likely to occur as a result of an injury or obesity.
While no cure exists for arthritis or osteoarthritis, joint pain may be managed using analgesics or topical pain relievers. Injectable corticosteroids may be used to control inflammation, but prolonged or frequent use of this treatment is not recommended. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce both pain and inflammation, but they are linked to gastrointestinal distress.
Assistive devices such as special shoes or braces may be used for extreme cases of arthritis, and joint replacement surgery can be used for extremely damaged joints.
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