What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a disease that causes inflammation in one or more joints. There are many types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and septic arthritis. Some types cause inflammation in the joints. Other types wear away the cartilage between joints. This makes the bones of the joint rub together when you move the joint. Your symptoms may be constant, or symptoms may come and go. Arthritis often gets worse over time and can cause permanent joint damage.
What increases my risk for arthritis?
- A family history of arthritis
- Infection, trauma, or injury to the joint
- A disease such as diabetes, heart disease, hypothyroidism, or psoriasis
- An immune deficiency disorder, such as AIDS or lupus
Diagnosis & Treatment Options
What are the signs and symptoms of arthritis?
- Pain, swelling, or stiffness in the joint
- Limited range of motion in the joint
- Warmth or redness over the joint
- Tenderness when you touch the joint
- Stiff joints in the morning that loosen with movement
- A creaking or grinding sound when you move the joint
How is arthritis diagnosed?
- Blood tests are used to measure the amount of inflammation in your body.
- An x-ray, CT, MRI, or ultrasound may be used to check for joint damage, swelling, or loss of bone. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious damage. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
- A sample of the fluid in the joint may be tested for uric acid or calcium crystals, or for signs of infection.
How is arthritis treated?
Treatment will depend on the type of arthritis you have and if it is severe. You may need any of the following:
- Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor’s order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
- NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor’s order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
- Steroid medicine helps reduce swelling and pain.
- Surgery may be needed to repair or replace a damaged joint.
Preparing for Care
What can I do to manage arthritis?
- Rest your painful joint so it can heal. Your healthcare provider may recommend crutches or a walker if the affected joint is in a leg.
- Apply ice or heat to the joint. Both can help decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your joint for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. You can apply heat for 20 minutes every 2 hours. Heat treatment includes hot packs or heat lamps.
- Elevate your joint. Elevation helps reduce swelling and pain. Raise your joint above the level of your heart as often as you can. Prop your painful joint on pillows to keep it above your heart comfortably.
- Go to therapy as directed. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion. You may also be shown non-weight-bearing exercises that are safe for your joints, such as swimming. Exercise can help keep your joints flexible and reduce pain. An occupational therapist can help you learn to do your daily activities when your joints are stiff or sore.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts increased pressure on your joints. Ask your healthcare provider what you should weigh. If you need to lose weight, he can help you create a weight loss program. Weight loss can help reduce pain and increase your ability to do your activities. The amount of exercise you do may vary each day, depending on your symptoms.
- Wear flat or low-heeled shoes. This will help decrease pain and reduce pressure on your ankle, knee, and hip joints.
- Use support devices. You may be given splints to wear on your hands to help your joints rest and to decrease inflammation. While you sleep, use a pillow that is firm enough to support your neck and head.
The following may help you move and prevent falls:
- Orthotic shoes or insoles help support your feet when you walk.
- Crutches, a cane, or a walker may help decrease your risk for falling. They also decrease stress on affected joints.
- Devices to prevent falls include raised toilet seats and bathtub bars to help you get up from sitting. Handrails can be placed in areas where you need balance and support.
When should you seek immediate care?
- You have a fever and severe joint pain or swelling.
- You cannot move the affected joint.
- You have severe joint pain you cannot tolerate.
When should you contact your healthcare provider?
- Your pain or swelling does not get better with treatment.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.