Swollen, stiff and painful joints are common symptoms of arthritis, or joint disease. There over 100 types of arthritis and related conditions that also can affect connective tissues and organs, including the eyes, heart, lungs and skin. While thick, knobby fingers may reveal surface signs of arthritis, deeper down in the joints where bones connect, and even in soft tissue, is where arthritis can wield debilitating damage.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 54.4 million American adults, or about one in four, have arthritis, and that by 2040, an estimated 78 million U.S. adults age 18 and older will have arthritis—the leading cause of disability in the country. Anyone of any age can get arthritis—the Arthritis Foundation says that about 300,000 babies and children have arthritis or a rheumatic condition—but the joint disease becomes more common with age. The CDC states that from 2013 to 2015, almost half of people age 65 and older in the U.S. reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis, and 26 percent of women and 19 percent of men in America reported doctor-diagnosed arthritis. 1
Common Types of Arthritis and Risk Factors
Arthritis symptoms can come and go, or be steadily persistent with varying degrees of pain severity. Common types of arthritis include:
- Osteoarthritis. The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage, the protective connective tissue on the ends of bones, thins and deteriorates, causing friction in joint movement.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. An autoimmune disorder, rheumatoid arthritis occurs when a person’s immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissues, eroding the lining of joints (synovium) and triggering painful inflammation.
- Psoriatic arthritis. A type of inflammatory arthritis, psoriatic arthritis is typically associated with psoriasis, a skin disease that presents with a red, scaly rash. People with psoriatic arthritis often experience swelling in their hands, knees, ankles and feet, with fingers and toes sometimes swelling to a sausage shape.
Other familiar forms of arthritis include ankylosing spondylitis, mainly affecting the spine; gout, caused by a buildup of uric acid crystals in a joint; and lupus, a systemic autoimmune disorder.
While the causes of many types of arthritis are unknown, a number of risk factors increase the likelihood of getting arthritis. Age is a factor because the older a person gets, the more wear and tear their joints endure.
The increased risk for arthritis is also higher among individuals who have chronic health conditions such as obesity or diabetes. The Arthritis Foundation reports that 31 percent of adults who are obese have arthritis and 47 percent of diabetics are arthritic. 2 Family genetics also influences who develops certain types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis. The CDC notes that inheriting specific genes, the HLA (human leukocyte antigen) class II genotypes, elevates the risk for arthritis and can intensify arthritic conditions. 3
How to Prevent Arthritis
While some forms of arthritis cannot be prevented, many types can be minimized or slowed by making certain lifestyle changes. Some of the best ways to keep joints healthy and prevent degenerative arthritis include the following:
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight adds stress to joints, especially weight-bearing joints like the knees and hips. Being overweight or obese can flare osteoarthritis in the body’s most active joints.
- Avoid injuries to joints, ligaments and cartilage. Athletes in high-impact sports such as basketball and running are particularly susceptible to damage to knees, ankles and hands that can lead to osteoarthritis.
- Ease up on repetitive movements. Certain activities and occupations with repetitive motions such as running, jumping, lifting, bending and kneeling can wear down cartilage that cushions joints in the body. Being careful to limit continual repetitive movements can help lessen problems with osteoarthritis.
- Boost and protect your immune system. A healthy immune system helps the body fight infection and prevent disease. A stronger immune system can help counter inflammatory arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis, and autoimmune arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, which results when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the joints and they become inflamed. A healthy immune system can also lessen symptoms of infectious arthritis caused by a virus, bacterium or fungus.
- Do not smoke. Research finds that smoking elevates a person’s risk for developing rheumatoid arthritis and can heighten the disease symptoms. Smoking also lowers the body’s immunity levels and hinders a person from staying physically active.
Care Tips for Arthritis
A thorough evaluation, early diagnosis and on-target treatment from a rheumatologist (an arthritis doctor) will help lessen joint changes and chronic pain. In treating and managing arthritis , a central goal is to reduce symptoms and improve a person’s mobility and function. For mild to moderate arthritis symptoms, the doctor may advise a combination of the following at-home care tips:
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatory medicines.
- Taking prescription corticosteroids or anti-rheumatic drugs.
- Applying heat and cold therapies to soothe pain.
- Staying active, yet getting sufficient rest.
- Strengthening the muscles around the affected joint.
- Allowing the joint to rest and protecting it from overuse or strain.
- Eating a nutritious diet to maintain a healthy weight, and boosting the body with anti-inflammatory foods such as green, leafy vegetables and fatty fish.
An arthritis diagnosis can be a lot to handle, especially for older adults and adults with disabilities. To help, a strong support system of family, friends and professional at-home caregivers proves invaluable. Together, they can help the loved one follow a treatment plan of medications, exercise and balanced nutrition. This network of arthritis champions can also provide companionship and moral support to ease the emotional stress of managing the disease while helping the person live well today and in the future.
For additional information about arthritis, living with arthritis, and rheumatologists in your area, contact the Arthritis Foundation at www.arthritis.org or call the toll-free helpline, 1-844-571-HELP (4357).
1 “Arthritis-Related Statistics.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/data_statistics/arthritis-related-stats.htm.
2 “Arthritis Facts.” Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved from https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/understanding-arthritis/arthritis-statistics-facts.php.
3 “Arthritis, Risk Factors.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/risk-factors.htm.
About the Author
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.