Arthritis is a disease that causes pain and loss of movement of the joints. The word arthritis literally means joint inflammation and refers to more than 100 different diseases.
There are over 100 kinds of arthritis that can affect many different areas of the body. In addition to the joints, some forms of arthritis are associated with diseases of other tissues and organs in the body. People of all ages, including children and young adults, can develop arthritis.
Inflammation is a reaction of the body that causes swelling, redness, pain, and loss of motion in an affected area. It is the major physical problem in the most serious forms of arthritis.
Normally, inflammation is the way the body responds to an injury or to the presence of disease agents, such as viruses or bacteria. During this reaction, many cells of the body’s defense system (called the immune system) rush to the injured area to wipe out the cause of the problem, clean up damaged cells and repair tissues that have been hurt. Once the “battle” is won, the inflammation normally goes away and the area becomes healthy again.
In many forms of arthritis, the inflammation does not go away as it should. Instead, it becomes part of the problem, damaging healthy tissues of the body. This may result in more inflammation and more damage in a continuing cycle.
The damage that occurs can change the bones and other tissues of the joints, sometimes affecting their shape and making movement hard and painful. Diseases in which the immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy parts of the body are called autoimmune diseases.
Standard therapy for any form of arthritis is physical therapy and occupational therapy to maintain joint mobility and range of motion. The proper kind and amount of this therapy will vary depending upon the underlying cause and upon individual factors that your physician will discuss with you.
Many drugs are now used to treat the inflammation and pain associated with arthritis. Aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, and others), naproxen (Naprosyn, and others) and dicolfenac (Voltaren), have immediate analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects and are relatively safe.
Second-line drugs used for treatment of rheumatoid arthritis include hydroxychloroquine, gold, penicillamine, azathioprine, sulfasalazine and methotrexate. These agents (which have no immediate analgesic effect) can control symptoms and may possibly delay progression of the disease, but many of them can also cause severe adverse effects and diminish in effectiveness over time. NSAIDs are usually taken concurrently with the slower acting second-line drugs, which may take months to produce a therapeutic response.
Additional References about Arthritis:Arthritis FoundationOsteoarthritis by the Mayo ClinicOsteoarthritis at WikipediaRheumatoid Arthritis at the Arthritis FoundationRheumatoid Arthritis by the Mayo Clinic Arthritis Ltd – Your complete online resource for Arthritis!