Nearly 60 million Americans suffer from doctor-diagnosed arthritis, a degenerative condition that can cause severe joint pain and disability. Another 32 million have arthritis symptoms but haven’t sought medical care yet.
When most of us think of arthritis, we think of osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis by far. But there are other forms of arthritis, too, and knowing what kind you have determines which treatment will help you find relief (and, ideally, slow the progression of the disease).
At Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Vestavia Hills, Alabama, Thomas Powell, MD, and his team offer custom-tailored arthritis treatment to patients suffering from arthritis. They use advanced techniques to diagnose the underlying cause of joint pain, so patients can find the relief they need. Here’s how to tell the difference between the most common types of arthritis.
Even though there are different types of arthritis, they all have one thing in common: They all cause problems with your joints. That’s because arthritis is associated with inflammation inside the joints, and over time, chronic inflammation can lead to joint damage.
Arthritis often happens in the knees and hips, joints that bear a lot of weight, as well as the hands and feet. But arthritis can affect any joint, including your elbows, wrists, and facet joints (the joints in your spine).
About a quarter of people who have arthritis have severe joint pain, and many people find their symptoms limit their mobility and prevent them from doing a lot of activities — even simple activities, such as walking or buttoning a shirt. In the United States, arthritis is a leading cause of disability.
Types of arthritis
It’s tempting to think of arthritis as the joint pain that often accompanies older age. But according to the Arthritis Foundation, there are actually 100 types of arthritis and related diseases. These are the most common types:
Osteoarthritis is most commonly associated with aging, because it’s caused by wear and tear on the joints. In OA, that excessive wear and tear leads to joint damage and inflammation, eventually wearing away the joint’s layer of protective cartilage. Osteoarthritis can also happen to young people, especially athletes and others who put a lot of repetitive strain on their joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that happens when the immune system “mistakenly” attacks healthy joint tissue. Like OA, RA can cause a lot of joint pain, and it’s also associated with swelling, redness, and warmth surrounding the joint. The inflammation caused by RA can affect other parts of your body, too, such as your heart, eyes, and lungs.
Just like the name implies, psoriatic arthritis happens in people who have psoriasis, an autoimmune disease that causes scaly, itchy, red patches of skin. Psoriatic arthritis causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, just like RA. But, unlike RA, psoriatic arthritis usually affects fewer joints than RA.
Lupus is another autoimmune disorder that can cause joint problems. In lupus, arthritis happens when inflammation damages and destroys the joint lining, leading to pain, stiffness, and tenderness in the joint.
Gout happens when you have too much uric acid in your bloodstream. Normally, uric acid is secreted in your urine. However, if you have excessive amounts of uric acid, your kidneys may not be able to filter it all out. If this occurs, the excess acid can form tiny crystals that lodge in your joints. Hard and pointy, these crystals can cause inflammation, pain, and stiffness.
Arthritis isn’t always associated with an underlying disease. You can wind up developing arthritis in a joint following a joint injury or as a result of an infection in a joint, too.
Because there are so many types of arthritis — and so many potential causes — the only way to know for sure which type you have is to have your symptoms evaluated. Dr. Powell uses advanced diagnostic techniques, including lab tests and imaging studies, to diagnose your arthritis and design a treatment plan that’s tailored to your unique needs.
Find relief for your joint symptoms
Regardless of the type of arthritis you have, the key to relieving symptoms is the same: Seek medical treatment early, so we can determine the type of arthritis you have and begin treating it appropriately.
To have your arthritis symptoms evaluated or to learn more about the arthritis treatment options we offer, call 205-606-5232 or book an appointment online with Powell Orthopedics and Sports Medicine today.