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Arthritis 101

With good information and treatment, the symptoms of arthritis can be managed.

Questions

1. What is arthritis?

2. Who is vulnerable to arthritis?

3. What are common symptoms of the disease?

4. What will happen when I first visit my doctor?

5. Who can treat arthritis?

6. What are the treatments for arthritis?

7. What medicines are available to help manage arthritis pain?

8. The aspirin I take irritates my stomach. What can I do?

9. My doctor mentioned glucocorticoids. What are these medicines?

10. Does having arthritis mean I'll need to be less active?

11. How can exercise help me?

12. What type of exercise is best?

13. Which is better at temporarily easing joint pain: a warm bath or an ice pack?

14. Can massage help ease arthritis pain?

15. When is surgery necessary?

16. Where can I go to learn more?

Answers

1. What is arthritis?

The word arthritis literally means "joint inflammation." However, arthritis is often used as an umbrella term to refer to more than 100 different rheumatic diseases that can cause pain, stiffness and swelling in many parts of the body.

The two most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis mainly affects the hips, knees, feet, spine and hands. In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis can affect not only the joints but also the skin, lungs, heart, eyes and other organs. It is one of the most disabling forms of arthritis.

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2. Who is vulnerable to arthritis?

Growing older is a major risk factor for osteoarthritis; most of those diagnosed with the disease are middle-aged or older. In addition, being overweight increases the risk of osteoarthritis in large, weight-bearing joints, such as the knees.

Rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men, according to the Arthritis Foundation. In women, rheumatoid arthritis usually starts between the ages of 30 and 60. It often occurs later in life for men. But even older teens and people in their 20s can get rheumatoid arthritis.

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3. What are common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

Symptoms include swelling in one or more joints; morning stiffness that lasts for more than 30 minutes; trouble moving in a normal way; redness or warmth in a joint; and weight loss, fever or fatigue.

See your doctor soon after symptoms begin. The earlier you start treatment, the better

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4. What will happen when I first visit my doctor?

Chances are your doctor will take your medical history, review the medications you are currently taking, do a physical exam, take blood samples and/or urine samples, and ask you to get x-rays taken or undergo other imaging tests, such as a CT scan.

If you are diagnosed with arthritis, your doctor will design a treatment plan to help you manage the disease.

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5. Who can treat arthritis?

Often, a team of healthcare professionals helps care for those with arthritis. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be treated by your personal doctor, a rheumatologist (a doctor specializing in arthritis), an orthopedic surgeon, or a physical or occupational therapist.

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6. What are the treatments for arthritis?

Treatments include medication, a comfortable balance of rest and exercise, assistive devices (such as braces or splints), and—when symptoms are severe—surgery.

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7. What medicines are available to help manage arthritis pain?

Some of the most widely used drugs are sold without a prescription. Because people with osteoarthritis have very little inflammation, pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) may be effective. Those with rheumatoid arthritis generally benefit from aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), reports the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Prescription drugs are also available to help treat arthritis.

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8. The aspirin I take irritates my stomach. What can I do?

Talk to your doctor. Aspirin and other NSAIDs can cause stomach upset and even ulcers. However, there are several ways to ease these side effects. One option is to switch to a type of NSAID called a COX-2 inhibitor that is safer for the stomach.

NSAIDs can increase the risk of heart problems and stroke, especially when used for long periods of time. Ask your doctor what's right for you.

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9. My doctor mentioned glucocorticoids. What are these medicines?

Sometimes referred to as corticosteroids, glucocorticoids are very powerful inflammation-fighting drugs. They can be taken either by mouth or injection. Prednisone is the corticosteroid most often given by mouth to reduce the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis.

When treating both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, a doctor may inject a corticosteroid directly into a joint to ease pain.

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10. Does having arthritis mean I'll need to be less active?

Not necessarily. Effective treatment of arthritis requires finding the right balance between rest and activity. Rest is important when a joint aches or you feel tired. However, too much rest may cause muscles and joints to become stiffer.

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11. How can exercise help me?

Regular exercise can help reduce joint pain and stiffness and increase muscle strength and flexibility. If you're overweight, physical activity can also help you drop pounds and reduce stress on weight-bearing joints.

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12. What type of exercise is best?

Talk with your doctor before starting any exercise program; he or she will recommend those activities most beneficial for you. In all likelihood, the program your doctor suggests will include three types of exercise: range-of-motion exercises, strengthening exercises and low-impact aerobic (endurance) exercises.

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13. Which is better at temporarily easing joint pain: a warm bath or an ice pack?

The decision to use either heat or cold for arthritis pain depends on the type of arthritis you have and should be discussed with your doctor. Depending on your situation, your doctor may advise moist heat (such as a warm bath or shower), a heating pad placed on the painful area for about 15 minutes, or an ice pack wrapped in a towel and placed on the painful area for about 15 minutes. If you have poor circulation, don't use ice packs.

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14. Can massage help ease arthritis pain?

Lightly stroking or kneading a painful muscle may increase blood flow and bring warmth to a stressed area. However, make sure you see a massage therapist who is familiar with the special needs of someone with arthritis. Arthritis-stressed joints are very sensitive.

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15. When is surgery necessary?

You may need surgery if damage to a joint becomes disabling or if other treatments fail to control the pain. Options include synovectomy (removing the tissue that lines the joints), osteotomy (realignment of the joint) or, in advanced cases, replacing the damaged joint with an artificial one.

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16. Where can I go to learn more?

To learn more about arthritis, visit the Arthritis health topic center. You can also learn more at these websites:

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reviewed 8/20/2019

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