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Arthritis Basics

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What Are the Symptoms of Arthritis?

Different types of arthritis have different symptoms and the symptoms vary in severity from person to person. Osteoarthritis does not generally cause any symptoms outside the joint. Symptoms of other types of arthritis may include fatigue, fever, a rash, and the signs of joint inflammation, including:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Tenderness
  • Redness
  • Warmth

What Causes Arthritis?

There are many different types of arthritis, and it's likely that there are many different causes. Researchers are examining the role of genetics (heredity) and lifestyle behaviors in the development of arthritis.

There are several risk factors for arthritis. (A risk factor is a trait or behavior that increases a person's chance of developing a disease or predisposes a person to a certain condition.) Risk factors for arthritis include:

  • Age. The risk of developing arthritis, especially osteoarthritis, increases with age.
  • Gender. In general, arthritis occurs more frequently in women than in men.
  • Obesity. Being overweight puts extra stress on weight-bearing joints, increasing wear and tear, and increasing the risk of arthritis, especially osteoarthritis. It also increases the incidence of gout.
  • Work factors. Some jobs that require repetitive movements or heavy lifting can stress the joints as well as cause an injury, which can lead to arthritis, particularly osteoarthritis.

How Common Is Arthritis?

Arthritis is very common. It has been estimated that as many as 70 million Americans -- or about one in three -- have some form of arthritis or joint pain. It is a major cause of lost work time and serious disability for many people. Osteoarthritis, the most common form, affects more than 20 million Americans. Arthritis affects people of all ages, but is more common in older adults.

How Is Arthritis Diagnosed?

Osteoarthritis is typically diagnosed with a complete medical history, including a description of your symptoms and a physical exam. Imaging techniques -- such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) -- are used to show the condition of the joints. If other types of arthritis are suspected, lab tests on blood, urine, and joint fluid may be helpful in determining the type of arthritis. These tests also can help rule out other diseases as the cause of your symptoms.

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