Symptoms of Arthritis


Arthritis is a global medical term that describes over 100 different conditions, all of which affect the musculoskeletal system of the human body. The word literally means inflammation of the joint and the majority of those 100 conditions are chronic, debilitating and sometimes require significant treatment to keep an individual mobile and healthy.


But those are the rare cases. For the most part, the majority of people diagnosed with arthritis (60%) are diagnosed with osteoarthritis and a little less than 40% are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. However, in addition to the musculoskeletal system and joints some of the diseases can also affect other tissues and organ systems of the body. People of all ages are at risk for these conditions. (1,2)


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In normal circumstances swelling and inflammation are the way in which the body responds to an injury or disease. The body activates the immune system that rushes to the scene to repair tissue or wipe out the cause of the problem. Once that is completed the inflammation goes away and the area is healthy once more.


In an arthritic condition this inflammation, swelling, soreness and sometimes redness and heat do not disappear. Instead it becomes a part of the problem and goes on to damage some of the surrounding healthy tissue that just initiates a cycle. If this inflammation is a part of a malfunctioning immune system where the body starts to attack itself it is called an autoimmune disease. Rheumatoid arthritis is one of those autoimmune conditions. (3)


Individuals who experience the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis will suffer from swelling and pain in their joints, but because the condition is also systemic they can also experience fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever, stiffness in the joints and damage to the heart, lungs, skin, eyes and nerve cells.


Doctors now have treatment protocols that help patients to live more normal lives when these same symptoms and deformities may have left them in a wheelchair just 10 years ago. But, some of the treatment protocols used to correct the imbalances in the body also cause problems. Those who are treated with high doses of aspirin therapy for rheumatoid arthritis may experience tinnitus, liver or kidney damage.


The symptoms of Osteoarthritis, the second of the more common arthritic conditions, are similar but not systemic. In other words, they individual will have localized symtpoms in their joints and muscular system but not have the kidney, liver, heart, eye and lung issues that those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis will experience. (4)


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Osteoarthritis affects more individuals over the age of 50, and the same number of men and women. When an individual first seeks the advice of their primary care physician they may experience noticeable swelling, chills, or fever during their normal activities at the onset of the condition. The pain and swelling will often limit the function of the joints.


The pain of osteoarthritis (OA) is common in the hands, hips, knees or feet and sometimes is present in the spine. Pain in this disease is usually related to activity in the joint and worse at the end of the day or after a period of heavy activity. As the disease continues to progress the pain will be present even at rest. (5)


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Individuals will also experience stiffness in their joints that lasts less than an hour after periods of inactivity such as after a nights sleep or sitting for a long period of time. They will have limited joint motion, tenderness, and possible some joint deformity. And some will experience a condition called ‘crepitus’ or creaking in the joint that is accompanied by pain. They may also have the same crepitus in other joints that don’t have arthritis but it will be painless.


Symptoms of both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can range from mild to severe. They will depend upon the joint involved, stress to the joints from activity or weight.


(1) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Arthritis-Related Statistics

(2) National Collaborating Centre for Chronic Conditions: Osteoarthritis

(3) Rheumatoid Arthritis

(4) University of Maryland Medical Center: Osteoarthritis

(5) American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons: Arthritis of the Hands