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Arthritis Basics

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What Causes Arthritis?

There are many different types of arthritis and the cause of most types is not known. 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.

Although the exact cause of arthritis may not be known, 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.
  • Work factors. Some jobs that require repetitive movements or heavy lifting can stress the joints and/or 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 sometimes used to show the condition of the joints. If other types of arthritis are suspected, lab tests on blood, urine, and/or 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.

How Is Arthritis Treated?

The goal of arthritis treatment is to provide pain relief and increase joint mobility and strength. Treatment options include medication, exercise, heat/cold compresses, use of joint protection, and surgery. Your treatment plan may involve more than one of these options.

What Is the Outlook for People With Arthritis?

With early diagnosis, most types of arthritis can be managed and the pain and disability minimized. In addition, early diagnosis and treatment may be able to prevent tissue damage caused by arthritis. Early, aggressive treatment is particularly important for rheumatoid arthritis in order to help prevent further damage and disability down the road.

Can Arthritis Be Prevented?

Although it may not be possible to prevent arthritis, there are steps to take to reduce your risk of developing the disease and to slow or prevent permanent joint damage. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight. Excess weight puts strain on your joints.
  • Exercising. Keeping your muscles strong can help protect and support your joints.
  • Using joint-protecting devices and techniques at work. Proper lifting and posture can help protect your muscles and joints.
  • Eating a healthy diet. A well balanced, nutritious diet can help strengthen your bones and muscles.

 

 

 

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kimball Johnson, MD on July 06, 2012
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