Arthritis is a condition that causes pain and stiffness in the joints. It can affect people of any age, but arthritis usually gets worse with time. Arthritis signs and symptoms are not always obvious, so you may not know you have arthritis unless you consult with a physician and get a proper diagnosis. So, how do I know if I have arthritis? Read below to understand arthritis, causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment.
What Causes Arthritis?
Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that your body's defense system turns on and attacks healthy joints. This condition causes deterioration of cartilage and joint surfaces. There are many different types of arthritis - some cause pain in the small joints at the base of the fingers or toes while others affect larger joints like hips or knees.
Osteoarthritis (the most common type) usually starts as a result of aging but can also be caused by injury to joint tissues from repetitive movements such as those seen with athletes who play certain sports involving pivoting, turning, jumping, and kicking overhead height. Other causes of arthritis include:
- An infection
- Injury to joints during an accident
- Excessive use of alcohol
- Certain drugs, including chemotherapy medications for cancer treatment
Early Signs of Arthritis
The symptoms for arthritis depend on the type you have; however, all of them cause stiffness that worsens with time. Other common arthritis warning signs include:
- Pain in joints with no injury or illness that explains it (most often morning stiffness)
- Reduced range of motion in one or more joints without an injury to the joint
- Tiredness/fatigue due to reduced activity from pain caused by arthritis-related inflammation and damage to cartilage; this also means it becomes difficult for muscles surrounding the affected joint(s) to contract appropriately because they don't receive enough oxygenated blood from damaged vessels supplying them.
- Swelling or warmth in one or more joints due to arthritis-related inflammation and damage to the joint. Due to inflammation, excess fluids build up around the affected area because it contributes to pain.
- Tonic muscle spasms can be experienced due to arthritis-related nerve irritation from arthritis, causing other muscles surrounding them to contract involuntarily; these are often located at an angle where it joins with another muscle (such as those on either side of your knee).
- Excessive wear/damage for age: Joints may look worn down, damaged, enlarged, misshapen or deformed compared to what would normally be expected based on someone's age.
- Swelling, redness, warmth around joints without any injury seen externally. This can cause your fingers to lose their ability to grasp things tightly, such as pens and clothespins. You will also notice swollen knees when standing for long periods of time. This swelling often comes on slowly without causing much discomfort until the knee becomes very stiff before going away again, usually within an hour.
- Difficulty walking without limping because one leg has less range than the other due to arthritis pain and arthritis damage from arthritis swelling
- Osteoarthritis often causes chronic but mild discomfort, while rheumatoid arthritis may be more severe, with onset happening suddenly and causing fever or other symptoms.
A doctor will ask about your arthritis history, medical history, and other health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, which could increase the risk of arthritis. They will also perform a physical examination looking for arthritis signs - like swollen but not inflamed joints (arthritis inflammation), crepitus (a grating sound when two bones are moved against each other), and arthritis deformities like a bunion on foot.
An arthritis diagnosis may require joint fluid analysis; X-ray imaging, such as MRI scanning; blood tests like rheumatoid factor testing or C reactive protein levels for people with chronic arthritis symptoms.
To treat arthritis, your doctor will recommend a combination of arthritis medication (e.g., painkillers) and lifestyle changes such as exercise or wearing an appropriate pair of shoes to relieve pressure on arthritis-affected areas. Taking warm baths can also ease arthritis symptoms. In some cases, you may need surgery to correct arthritis deformation, like joint replacement surgery for severe arthritis damage in one area.
Living with arthritis is not an easy task. There are many ways to make the process easier on yourself, and you should always be proactive in your health care. Watch out for early warning signs of arthritis to look out for so it can be diagnosed early and treated appropriately - before it becomes worse.
It's essential that you find a doctor who can help guide you through everything from medication options to diet changes. With the right information and support, living well with arthritis is possible.