What is Arthritis?

10th Feb 2016 Medical News

The term arthritis is commonly used to represent a disease process that occurs only in the elderly. In reality, it is estimated that over 52 million adults have some form of arthritis and it is the number cause of disability in the U.S. Nearly half of those who have arthritis have limitations with their normal daily activities.   With a population that is living longer, these numbers are expected to grow considerably in the next decade. When we say arthritis what does it really mean?

According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis is a general term referring to joint pain or joint disease.  There are approximately 200 types of arthritis which can be classified into seven groups:

  • Degenerative arthritis (most common form)
  • Inflammatory arthritis
  • Infectious arthritis
  • Metabolic arthritis
  • Soft tissue musculoskeletal pain
  • Connective tissue disease
  • Back pain

There is no single cause of arthritis.  Most forms of arthritis are caused by a combination of contributing factors (personal, environmental, and genetic) while the cause of some forms of arthritis remains elusive.


Several risk factors for arthritis have been identified.  These can be divided into modifiable risk factors and non-modifiable risk factors.  Obesity, injuries, and occupation are all known to lead to the development of osteoarthritis.  These are risk factors that have the potential to be modified.   Age, sex, and genetics are the non-modifiable risk factors associated with various forms of arthritis.

In addition to the adult forms of arthritis, there are several known forms of childhood arthritis known as Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile chronic arthritis, and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.  Approximately 1 in 250 children in the U.S. under the age of 18 has been diagnosed with a form of childhood arthritis.

Symptoms of arthritis vary considerably amongst the different types.  The onset can be abrupt or can develop gradually.  The most common symptoms include pain in one or more areas, swelling, and joint stiffness. Treatment is aimed at managing these symptoms to control pain, minimize structural damage, and improve quality of life.  Common treatments for arthritis include various medications, injections, therapies, splints, patient education, support groups, weight loss, and surgery.

New treatment approaches utilizing biologic agents and targeted drugs are being studied in the hopes of finding a cure for the various forms of arthritis.