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Understanding Arthritis -- the Basics

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The Major Types of Arthritis continued...

In many people, the onset of osteoarthritis is gradual and has no serious debilitating effect in the beginning, although it can change the shape and appearance of a joint. Bony growths called spurs and gnarled joints may cause painful nerve damage, along with significant changes in posture and mobility. 

Rheumatoid arthritis can occur at any age, but generally begins to affect people between ages 30 and 50. It affects women two to three times more often than men. It is the second most common form of arthritis, affecting 2 million people or more in the United States. Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by inflammation, swelling, and pain in the hands, especially the knuckles and next closest finger joints, as well as in the wrists, elbows, shoulders, knees, and feet. Generalized fatigue can also occur. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause damage to other parts of the body, including the lungs, eyes, nerves, and skin. The discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis usually develops and worsens over weeks or months and tends to be most severe upon awakening.

Rheumatoid arthritis may eventually cause the hands and feet to become misshapen as muscles weaken, tendons move out of position, and the ends of bones become damaged.

Though there is no cure, remission is possible. Early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis can relieve symptoms and prevent disability in most people. With early treatment, the likelihood of permanent disability is reduced in all but 5% to 10% of sufferers.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis comes in many forms. Still's disease, one type of arthritis, affects the whole body. It is characterized by daily fevers and low blood counts (anemia). The disease can also have secondary effects on the heart, lungs, eyes, and nervous system. Other kinds of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by persistent arthritis in one or more joints. Treatment is essentially the same as for adult rheumatoid arthritis, with heavy emphasis on physical therapy and exercise to keep growing bodies active. Permanent damage from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is now rare, and most affected children recover from the disease fully without experiencing any lasting disabilities.

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