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Arthritis Defined

Arthritis literally means joint inflammation, and it can affect joints in any part of the body. Joints are places in the body where two bones meet.

Many people use the term arthritis to refer to rheumatic diseases; however, the different kinds of arthritis comprise just a portion of the rheumatic diseases.

Arthritis is often a chronic disease, which means that it can affect you over a long period of time. Many forms of arthritis cause swelling, redness, heat, and pain.

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Causes and Risk Factors

Scientists do not yet fully understand what causes the various forms of arthritis. They are studying risk factors to determine why some people develop the disease and others do not.

Scientists have some understanding of the factors that cause osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. These are the three most common forms of arthritis among older adults.

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Symptoms and Diagnosis

Different types of arthritis have different symptoms. In general, people with most forms of arthritis have pain and stiffness in their joints. To make a diagnosis, most doctors use a combination of methods and tests including a medical history, a physical examination, x rays, and laboratory tests.

It is important for people with joint pain to give the doctor a complete medical history. Answering these questions will help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis:

  • Is the pain in one or more joints?
  • When does the pain occur and how long does it last?
  • When did you first notice the pain?
  • Does activity make the pain better or worse?
  • Have you had any illnesses or accidents that may account for the pain?
  • Is there a family history of any arthritis or rheumatic diseases?
  • What medicines are you taking?
  • A medical history is the patient's description of symptoms and when and how they began. The description covers pain, stiffness, and joint function, and how these have changed over time.
  • A physical examination includes the doctor's examination of the joints, skin, reflexes, and muscle strength. The doctor observes the patient's ability to walk, bend, and carry out activities of daily living.

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Treatment and Research

Certain prescription drugs and natural health supplements can help reduce the inflammatory effects of arthritis, minimize the pain associated with this disease and improve the overall quality of life of the patient. The extent to which your body responds to these substances and treatments depends on the type of arthritis, the severity of symptoms, your general health and some other factors.

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