Arthritis is a common problem. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, and as many as 70 million people in the United States (1 in 3 American adults) are affected. A common misconception is that arthritis is an 'old person's disease.' In fact, arthritis can arise in many forms and affect people of all ages – including children and adolescents. While the most commonly known form, osteoarthritis, is a degenerative disease that progresses as people age, the many forms of inflammatory arthritis can affect people at any age. Various types of arthritis can affect different parts of the body, such as:
Thomas P. Sculco, MD, explains what arthritis is, what causes it, and how it can be avoided, diagnosed, and treated. This is Part 1 of a series on total hip replacement surgery. Watch the complete video series.
Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease, happens when cartilage is worn down over time, usually from a lifetime of use or as the result of an injury to the joint. As the normally smooth surface of the cartilage is destroyed, exposing the underlying bone, the joint becomes more painful to move and the range of motion may diminish. This type of arthritis usually involves one or more large weight-bearing joints such as a hip or a knee. With this type of arthritis, pain is usually made worse with activity and is better with rest. It is common for symptoms to be at their worst at the end of the day.
This form of arthritis is usually treated with anti-inflammatory medications taken orally as a pill or as an injected form, and can also be relieved with physical therapy, exercise and proper nutrition. Joint replacement surgery is usually considered after conservative (nonsurgical) methods have been tried but shown to be adequate. Hip replacement surgery and knee replacement surgery have become trusted treatments for restoring mobility and easing pain.
Less frequent but often more serious are the inflammatory forms of arthritis, which include conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. These forms usually involve many joints throughout the body at the same time and are caused by a problem with the immune system becoming over-active, resulting in joint inflammation. Arthritis caused by inflammation often results in pain and stiffness after periods of rest or inactivity, particularly in the morning. Swelling, redness and warmth may be present in the affected joints. Other areas in the body can be affected by the inflammation as well, including the skin and internal organs such as the lungs and heart.
Inflammatory arthritis is usually treated with a combination of medications to relieve swelling and pain while regulating the immune system. As with osteoarthritis, joint replacement surgery should also be considered when these non-surgical methods have failed to provide lasting benefit.
When detected and treated early, arthritis can be halted in its tracks. The HSS Inflammatory Arthritis Center connects patients quickly and efficiently with a rheumatologist who can evaluate their joint pain and get each patient started on an appropriate course of treatment. Hospital for Special Surgery also offers specialized patient education and support programs for conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.