Osteoarthritis (OA) is the commonest form of joint disease. It is generally considered to be due to "wear and tear" of the joints leading to damage of the joint surfaces which gives pain on movement.
There are many factors influencing its development , including a family history of OA and previous damage to the joint through injury or surgery. OA is very common in older age groups, but can affect younger people too.
The word arthritis is a blend of the Greek words arthron, for joint, and itis, for inflammation. In other words, arthritis literally means "joint inflammation." Although arthritis is often referred to as one disease, it's not. Arthritis has more than 100 forms.
Osteoarthritis, sometimes called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis, is the most common form of arthritis. It's characterized by the breakdown of joint cartilage and may affect any joint in your body, including those in your fingers, hips, knees, lower back and feet. Initially it may strike only one joint. But if your fingers are affected, multiple hand joints may become arthritic.
There's no cure for osteoarthritis, but treatments today are far ahead of what was available just a few years ago. In addition, how well you live with arthritis often depends on your actions and attitude. If you actively manage your arthritis, you may be able to gain control over your pain.
Arthritis involves inflammation of one or more joints and the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage normally protects the joint, allowing for smooth movement. Cartilage also absorbs shock when pressure is placed on the joint, like when you walk or otherwise bear weight. Without the usual amount of cartilage, the bones rub together, causing pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
You may have joint inflammation for a variety of reasons, including:
Infection (usually caused by bacteria or viruses)
An autoimmune disease (the body attacks itself because the immune system believes a body part is foreign)
General "wear and tear" on joints
Often, the inflammation goes away after the injury has healed, the disease is treated, or the infection has been cleared.
With some injuries and diseases, the inflammation does not go away or destruction results in long-term pain and deformity. When this happens, you have chronic arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the most common type and is more likely to occur as you age. You may feel it in any of your joints, but most commonly in your hips, knees or fingers. Risk factors for osteoarthritis include:
Previously injuring the affected joint
Using the affected joint in a repetitive action that puts stress on the joint (baseball players, ballet dancers, and construction workers are all at risk)
Other types or cause of arthritis include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis (in adults)
- Juvenile Rheumatoid arthritis (in children)
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Reiter's syndrome (reactive arthritis)
- Adult Still's disease
- Viral arthritis
- Gonococcal arthritis
- Other bacterial infections (non-gonococcal bacterial arthritis)
- Tertiary Lyme disease (the late stage)
- Tuberculous arthritis
- Fungal infections such as blastomycosis
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Stiffness, especially in the morning
- Warmth around a joint
- Redness of the skin around a joint
- Reduced ability to move the joint
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Signs and tests
First, your doctor will take a detailed medical history to see if arthritis or another musculoskeletal problem is the likely cause of your symptoms.
Next, a thorough physical examination may show that fluid is collecting around the joint. (This is called an "effusion.") The joint may be tender when it is gently pressed, and may be warm and red (especially in infectious arthritis and autoimmune arthritis). It may be painful or difficult to rotate the joints in some directions. This is known as "limited range-of-motion."
In some autoimmune forms of arthritis, the joints may become deformed if the disease is not treated. Such joint deformities are the hallmarks of severe, untreated rheumatoid arthritis.
Tests vary depending on the suspected cause. They often include blood tests and joint x-rays. To check for infection and other causes of arthritis (like gout caused by crystals), joint fluid is removed from the joint with a needle and examined under a microscope. See the specific types of arthritis for further information.