What Is Joint Inflammation?
When you think of arthritis, you’re probably thinking of inflammation. Inflammation is a process in which your body's white blood cells and immune proteins help protect you from infection and things like bacteria and viruses.
In some diseases, your immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there isn’t anything to fight off. With these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, your body's immune system damages its own tissues. Your body responds as if normal tissues need to be fought off.
Types of Arthritis Linked to Inflammation
The most common form of arthritis is called osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis. Experts don’t think inflammation plays a major role in osteoarthritis. Other painful conditions of your joints and musculoskeletal system that aren’t tied to inflammation include fibromyalgia, muscular low back pain, and muscular neck pain.
Symptoms of Joint Inflammation
The symptoms of inflammation include:
Often, you’ll have only a few of these symptoms.
Inflammation may also have general flu-like symptoms including:
Causes of Joint Inflammation
When you have inflammation, your body releases chemicals into your blood or affected tissues. These chemicals boost blood flow to an area of injury or infection and may cause redness and warmth. Some of the chemicals cause fluid to leak into your tissues, and that can bring on swelling. This process may trigger your nerves and cause pain.
Results of Joint Inflammation
More blood flow and the release of these chemicals attract white blood cells to the sites of inflammation. The higher number of cells and inflammatory chemicals in your joint can cause irritation, wearing down of cartilage (cushions at the end of bones), and swelling of your joint lining (synovium).
Diagnosing Joint Inflammation
Diagnosis of inflammatory joint diseases consists of all or some of these exams:
- Medical history and physical exam, focusing on which joints are involved
- Evaluation of other symptoms besides joint symptoms
- X-rays, blood tests, and other studies
Can Inflammation Affect Internal Organs?
Inflammation can affect your organs as part of an autoimmune disorder. The symptoms depend on which organs are affected. For example:
- Inflammation of your heart (myocarditis) may cause chest pain or fluid retention.
- Inflammation of the small tubes that bring air to your lungs (bronchiolitis) may cause shortness of breath.
- Inflammation of your kidneys (nephritis) may cause high blood pressure or kidney failure.
- Inflammation of your eye (iritis or uveitis) may cause pain or vision problems.
- Inflammation of your muscles (polymyositis) may cause achiness or weakness.
- Inflammation of your blood vessels (vasculitis) may cause rash, headaches, or internal organ damage.
Pain may not be a main symptom, because many organs don’t have nerves that sense pain.
Treatments for Joint Inflammation
Treatments for inflammatory joint diseases include medications, rest, exercise, and surgery to correct joint damage. Your treatment will depend on several things including the type of disease, your age, the type of medications you’re taking, your overall health, your medical history, and how severe your symptoms are.
The goals of treatment are to:
- Treat the disease that’s causing your inflammation
- Relieve pain with medication and by changing your activities
- Maintain joint movement, muscle strength, and overall function with physical therapy and exercise
- Lessen stress on your joints by using braces, splints, or canes as needed
What Drugs Are Used to Treat Inflammatory Diseases?
Many drugs are available to ease joint pain, swelling, or inflammation and hopefully to keep your inflammatory disease from getting worse. These medications include:
- Anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen)
- Corticosteroids (such as prednisone)
- Other medications including chemotherapy drugs, disease-modifying treatments, biologic therapy, and narcotic pain relievers. Some of these medications treat other conditions, such as cancer and inflammatory bowel disease, or they prevent organ rejection after transplants. But your doctor can prescribe them to help treat your symptoms. Your dose or side effects may be different. But these are strong medications, and your doctor will want to keep a close eye on you while you take them.
If you’re taking any prescription drug, it’s important to meet with your doctor regularly so they can check how well it’s working and whether you have any side effects.