Arthritis is an umbrella term for the inflammation of the joints. Some types of arthritis can be short-term, whereas others can be chronic in nature. Arthritis generally affects older people, although it can take place at any age.
- Causes stiffness and pain in the joints
- Certain joints are affected more than others
- Treatment varies from medication and physiotherapy to surgery
In order to speak to a doctor about arthritis online, you can use our live video consultation service. Our doctors can help you talk about your symptoms and offer advice on potential treatment options. Book a slot at a suitable time for you.
Most forms of arthritis have distinct characteristics and can be diagnosed quite easily by a doctor.
However, arthritis can be a complex condition, and it may be difficult to pinpoint where exactly the problem lies. Surrounding muscles, cartilage and synovium may all be affected.
What types of arthritis are there?
This is the most common type of arthritis, and causes pain and stiffness in the joints. The protective cartilage breaks down over time, and growths can arise when the bone stops being able to repair itself efficiently. Like most other forms of arthritis, risk factors include age and obesity.
Rheumatoid arthritis causes similar symptoms to osteoarthritis, but it is not caused by wear and tear on the bones. Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by an autoimmune attack, and can lead to persistent pain, along with symmetrical joint swelling throughout the body. This differs to osteoarthritis, which often causes morning stiffness on one side of the body. It can flare up at any time. Treatment cannot cure it but it may relieve symptoms.
This is a type of arthritis which develops from an infection elsewhere in the body. Symptoms include pain and swelling, and stiffness in the joints. It can last for as long as 6 months, but will not be a long-term condition in most cases.
This condition is caused by the skin condition, psoriasis. It can vary in severity from very mild to severe, depending on how the psoriasis has spread in the body.
This is an infection in the joint itself, which causes pain and a general feeling of being unwell. Septic arthritis is very uncommon, but it does require emergency referral to hospital.
Ankylosing spondylitis is a condition which may affect the bones, muscles and ligaments in the spine. It usually affects the lower part of the back, and can sometimes cause the joints to fuse together.
What symptoms do different forms of arthritis cause?
Inflammation of the joints is consistent with all types of arthritis. The inflammation results in a general stiffness and tenderness in the affected area. If the arthritis is particularly severe, it can restrict movement of the joint.
There may also be a warm sensation and red skin around the affected joint, particularly if the arthritis is being caused by an infection. If arthritis is in the latter stages of development, the muscles can be weak or may have wasted around the affected joint.
In cases of psoriatic arthritis, the pain and stiffness around the joint is most likely to be accompanied with psoriasis prior to the arthritis developing. Septic arthritis is distinguishable by the severe pain and swelling, which may be present with a fever.
How is arthritis diagnosed?
In order to diagnose what type of arthritis is present, a doctor will evaluate patient history, before performing a physical exam and conducting some imaging tests. A doctor is likely to ask about the nature of the symptoms. For example, when the pain started, at what period it’s at its worst, and whether it can be relieved. They are likely to ask whether any other current health issues could be having an influence, such as smoking, being overweight, or not exercising sufficiently.
During the physical examination, a doctor will look for signs of swelling and visible stiffness. They will also look to see whether the inflammation of the joints is symmetrical or not. They may feel the affected area for signs of warmth or accumulations of fluid. You may be asked to move the affected joints to show their range of motion, while your doctor feels how tender the joint is.
If a doctor suspects that an infection could be the cause, your glands may be checked for swelling, and your eyes and throat examined.
A doctor may carry out some tests if they remain uncertain as to a diagnosis. They may decide to take a full blood count to see how many antibodies are being produced. X-rays are the most frequently used imaging test, in order to get a clearer picture of the joint. An MRI or ultrasound scan can also be conducted as an alternative to an X-ray.
What treatments are there for arthritis?
Different types of arthritis can be managed but the majority can’t be cured. Prompt diagnosis and treatment from an early stage can prevent the joint from becoming severely damaged in later life.
For osteoarthritis, the focus of treatment is on appropriate adjustment to lifestyle measures and medication to relieve pain. Maintaining a healthy weight and regularly exercising are common suggestions.
For arthritis which has been caused by an infection, such as reactive arthritis, antibiotics are the first-line course of treatment to clear the infection. This can be accompanied with corticosteroids if the arthritis is severe and causing ongoing pain.
Most types of long-term arthritis can be helped with the use of DMARDs, which help the joints by stopping inflammation from occurring in the first place. They are used in cases where inflammation is ongoing, particularly if it’s severe. There are many different types of DMARDs and it can take a few months for the treatment to start having a noticeable, positive impact on inflammation.
Talking to a doctor about arthritis online
If you have developed arthritis and would like to speak to a doctor online, you can do so via our live video consultation service. Book an appointment at a convenient time for you. Our GMC-registered doctors can advise you on measures you can take to alleviate arthritic pain, and let you know what long-term treatment options are available.