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Arthritis: symptoms, types, causes, treatment

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First published: 12.Sept.2023


Arthritis is a disease that affects the joints, causing swelling, stiffness and pain. There are over one hundred different types of arthritis with different causes and treatments.
It is quite common and affects millions of Americans of all ages.

Understanding arthritis can improve your life quality, help you seek medical counsel and take positive decisions about the treatment, lifesytle changes and how to manage it better. Here you will learn more about this condition, the types, symptoms and causes of arthritis as well as some treatment options.

In this Article (Index)

hand afflicted by polyarthritis, woman 82 years old, color
Joints deformed by arthritis Source

What is Arthritis?

"Arthritis" literally means "inflamamation of a Joint", the English word dates back to 1540 and originates from a Latin medical term arthriticus derived from Greek arthritikos, the combination of two Greek words: arthron = "joint" and -itis = "disease".

Arthritis is therefore, the swelling, inflammation and tenderness of one or more joints.

Joints are places where two bones meet, such as your elbow, knee, backbone, hands and feet.

But it isn't a single disease, the term covers over 100 different types of arthritis.

An overview of Arthritis

It can affect anyone, of any race or sex though it is predominant among women. Some types of arthritis are more common in the elderly than in younger people, but you can have it at any age.

In the U.S., it is the leading cause of disability.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Arthritis symptoms involve the joints, and may vary depending on the type of arthritis, they may include :

  • Swelling, redness, pain, stiffness, inflammation, tenderness in your joints.
  • Restricted or decrease range of motion in your joints.

Symptoms may remain stable for some time, even years, but they will worsen as you age. They may be mild or severe, and may also come and go.

Consequences of Arthritis

The symptoms and signs of severe arthritis will affect the day to day lives of those suffering from this condition: chronic pain, stiff jints, difficulty in performing simple daily activities such as walking or climbing stairs.

Arthritis can cause permanent changes in the joints. Some types of arthritis also affect other organs such as the lungs, skin, eyes, and heart.

As there are many different types of arthritis, each with a different cause and treatment, it is important that you visit your doctor so that he can diagnose the type that you have and receive proper treatment. Nowadays medical treatment will allow you to live an active and productive life.

The main goals of arthritis treatments are to reduce symptoms, especially pain, and improve quality of life.

Types of Arthritis

There are several types of arthritis (more than 100 different kinds), and the three most common in the Western world are gout, osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Below we will list and briefly summarize each of the most common kinds of arthritis:

Gout (Metabolic Arthritis)

Gout is caused by the buildup of uric acid crystals in the joints. Uric acid is a byproduct resulting from the body metabolizing purines, a chemical found in proteins, especially meat, offal and alcohol.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and it causes wear and damage to the joint's cartilage, a hard yet slippery tissue that coats the ends of the bones at a joint. It cushions the area allowing frictionless movement and absorbs the energy of motion.

When it gets damaged the outcome is bone rubbing against bone, causing pain and stiffness.

It affects hands, knees, hips, and the spine. weakening the bones and the tissue that holds the joint together. Inflammation plays a key role in damaging the joint lining.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune type of arthritis. It is caused by an overactive immune system that attacks the healthy joint tissues.

The immune system targets the lining of the tough capsule that contains the joints, called synovial membrane; eventually, as it progresses it can destroy the bone and cartilage inside the joint.

It has a genetical component and is triggered by some environmental factor (virus, stress) and is perhaps mediated by the gut microbiome which interacts with the host's immune system.

Other types of arthritis

Below are some more common types of arthritis:

  • Ankylosing spondylitis. This arthritis affects the joints and ligaments of the spine.
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. As its name indicates, it is the most common type of arthritis among children. "Idiopathic" means that it appears suddenly and its cause is unknown.
  • Psoriatic arthritis. Affects people with psoriasis, a skin condition with an autoimmune origin, it can also affect other tissues.
  • Reactive arthritis. Triggered by an infection, it often resolves by itself in a short period of time (weeks to months).

Risk factors

There are several risk factors for arthrits:

  • Genetics. Some types of arthritis run in the family. You may have inherited it from your parents.
  • Age. Rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis are more common in older people.
  • Sex. Women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men, but men are more prone to have gout.
  • Stress or injury to the joints. Caused by sports accidents or repetitive trauma to a joint (tennis elbow), or being overweight and adding extra weight to be carried by the spine, knees, ankles and hips.


Your health care provider will focus on trying to relieve the symptoms (pain, inflammation) and also to improve how your joints function. This may require a combination of treatments that could involve the following:


The medications used to treat arthritis depend on the type; Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are used to reduce inflammation and for pain relief. There are different kinds such as naproxen (Aleve) or ibuprofen (Advil).

Steroids are anti-inflammatory medications used to reduce swelling and pain. They have some strong side effects and should be used with caution.

Topical application of menthol or capsaicin (derived from hot peppers) can block the pain signals from the inflammed joints.

Physical Therapy

Exercise helps improve the mobility of joints, strengthens and builds up the muscles around them and is also good for losing weight. It strengthens the core, improves posture and relieves stress.

Follow an exercise program designed for people with arthritis to avoid doing something that may cause more damage to your joints.

Diet and weight loss

Gout can be relieved with a diet that reduces the intake of purine-rich foods (meat) and focuses on those with a lower content (plant based foods). A weight loss program involving calorie restriction will also reduce the strain on your joints caused by carrying around extra pounds.

Alternative treatments

Lifestyle and diet play a role in arthritis and as medications have unwanted side effects natural products are being considered as agents for treating arthritis, such as natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents. These can be ingested like olive oil, green tea, turmeric, berries. A balanced diet with vegetables, fruits, whole cereals, fish and less processed foods can contribute towards the goal of providing natural bio-active compounds for your body to use.

Surgery and Joint repair

If medication, therapy and diet don't help your care provider may suggest different surgical options such as joint repair, joint replacement or joint fusion.

Detailed Information on each type of Arthritis

We have written pages for each of the most common types of arthritis with in depth information on their symptoms, causes and treatment. Click below to learn all about them.

Read More

> > Gout.

> > Osteoarthritis.

> > Rheumatoid arthritis.

References and Further Reading

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Arthritis. Arthritis. Last Reviewed Nov. 2022. Accessed: Sept. 12, 2023.

Linda Rath (2022), What Is Arthritis?. Arthritis Foundation. Updated June 9, 2022

Mayo Clinic. Arthritis. Aug. 29, 2023, Mayo Clinic Staff.

About this Article

Arthritis, A. Whittall

©2023, 12 Sept. 2023. Update scheduled for 12 Sept. 2025.

Tags: arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, collagen, rheumatoid arthritis, arthritis-osteo, degenerative joint disease, cartilage.

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