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The two main types of arthritis are osteoarthritis (sometimes referred to as OA) and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis is the common form whereby cartilage between the bones in the joints begins to waste away causing the bones to rub against each other. This is the degenerative type of arthritis and can lead to misalignment of the joints particularly in the knees, hips, spine and hands.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a more severe form of arthritis but less common than OA. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs as the body's immune system attacks and damages the joints causing pain and swelling. This form of arthritis reduces function of the joint leading to a loss in mobility as the cartilage and bone is destroyed.
Arthritis has over 200 different forms including: Ankylosing spondylitis, Fibromyalgia and Cervical spondylitis. Although rare, children can develop arthritis and this is referred to as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis ( or JIA).
The actual cause of osteoarthritis is unclear but many healthcare professionals believe genetics play a major role in the development of the disease. Factors that may contribute to OA include:
Being overweight (obesity places extra strain on the joints)
Career, activity, sport – Certain repetitive movements place added strain on the joints)
Injury or damage to the joint – trauma to the joint may trigger the disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a problem with the body's immune system which may be a passed on through family members within the genes.
The onset of osteoarthritis typically begins between the ages of 40-60 years but most commonly affects those over the age of 65. Symptoms begin slowly with a noticeable pain, stiffness and restricted movement in the joints affected. Osteoarthritis can also cause joints that creak or crack (known as crepitation), boney growths (particularly on the hands) and misalignment of the joints. Pain usually worsens as the day goes on.
Rheumatoid arthritis typically begins between the ages of 30-50 years with women three times more likely to be affected. Symptoms start slowly often in the smaller joints of the body such as the fingers and toes. This can progress to severe pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of mobility. Cold and damp conditions may make the symptoms worse but this can improve during the day as the joints start to flex. The condition can also leave sufferers feeling tired and generally unwell.
A common side effect of all forms of arthritis is pain. The pain levels vary depending on where it is concentrated on the body and the type of arthritis.
Typically rheumatoid arthritis is worse in the morning and in the early development patients will cease to display symptoms following a shower. Whilst osteoarthritis is predominantly worse in the evening or following rest. When diagnosing arthritis practitioners are guided by the elements and features of the pain history i.e. joints involved, the factors that contribute towards relief and similarly onset of pain.
As part of the diagnosis and in tandem with the physical examination, radiographs are often used to track the progression and quantify the acuteness of the damage. In addition X-rays and blood test will also be used to help reach a firm diagnosis.