There are more than one hundred different types of conditions loosely called arthritis! These conditions range from gout to lupus to the infamous osteoarthritis which affects over 27 million Americans. Everyone has aches and pains, especially as we age, so what differentiates an ache or pain that should be evaluated by your doctor and that which you can wait out?
Any joint pain that is associated with arthritis does not disappear with a couple of days of rest. Most aches and pains are fleeting or athletic injuries show progressive healing process while pain associated with an arthritic condition is more chronic.
Osteoarthritis is the most common diagnosis of arthritis in the world today. Progressive stiffness without any chills, noticeable swelling or fever is usually associated with the gradual onset of osteoarthritis in individuals who are older than 40 or 50 years old. On the other hand, painful swelling, inflammation and stiffness, especially upon awakening, can be the signs of rheumatoid arthritis.
Gout is an arthritic condition caused by the buildup of uric acid in the blood. This causes urate crystals to form in a joint, most commonly the big toe. A flare-up of gout often happens overnight and quickly. Children who suffer from intermittent fever, loss of appetite, weight loss and a blotchy rash may be exhibiting the symptoms of a type of rheumatoid arthritis.
As you can see there are multiple symptoms that accompany arthritis because there are multiple different types of arthritic conditions. However, the one commonality between these diagnoses and symptoms is pain and stiffness. In some individuals this will be accompanied by swelling, redness and warmth, in others it will be accompanied by fever and still others will be accompanied by severe pain or blotchy rashes over the body.
Some symptoms of arthritis are more severe after exercise but more commonly arthritic conditions become more stiff and painful when the individual has been resting for a period of time. This means that first thing in the morning, getting up from the dinner table or after resting in the evening on the couch, stiffness and pain will be greater.
Symptoms also include limited function of the joints that is related to the stiffness and pain.
Arthritis is considered a rheumatic disease which is a nonspecific term for a medical condition which affects the joints and connective tissue. This means that some arthritic conditions will also affect connective tissue in the internal organs as well as the joints. This results in fever, glandular swelling, fatigue, weight loss and abnormalities in the lungs, heart or kidneys.
Many of the arthritic conditions involve the breakdown of cartilage which protects the joints and allows for smooth motion. In some cases it is the result of an auto immune disease in which the body attacks itself. In other conditions it is a general “wear and tear”, infection by bacteria or viruses or the result of a broken bone.
Researchers have identified several risk factors for individuals to develop painful joints which include being overweight, a previously injured joint, use of joints in repetitive action such as baseball players, ballet dancers and construction workers, age and depending upon the condition, gender.
Your doctor will include a specific and thorough medical history as well as physical examination, blood tests and imaging studies to discover the exact cause of the joint pain. In many cases you will be referred to a rheumatologist who is a doctor specializing in the treatment of connective tissue diseases. This specialist will be able to accurately diagnose your condition and make specific recommendations for your individual case.
As with most diseases, arthritic conditions respond well to early diagnosis and treatment. Many arthritic conditions are also progressive, which means that they continue to get worse as time goes on. The earlier that a diagnosis and accurate treatment recommendations have been made the better the chance there is for reduced deformity of the joints and improved overall function.