What Is Arthritis?

Some forms of arthritis are an autoimmune disease which begins by attacking the body's healthy cells in the joints and lowers the immune system. The inflammation in autoimmune arthritis can affect the entire body in different ways. 

There is no one true form of arthritis, it is an umbrella term for the 100+ types of joint pain and inflammation known as arthritis. There is no cure for arthritis and not rarely a cause like osteoarthritis. You don't really just say you have cancer, you say what type of cancer like breast, lung or non-hodgkin's lymphoma, same with arthritis. However when someone says they have arthritis they are usually referring to wear and tear degenerative osteoarthritis, which is the most common form. Many people mistake arthritis to be only this form and only happens in the elderly. Osteoarthritis is also referred to as Degenerative Joint Disease or Degenerative Arthritis. 

Covering each bone is a firm rubbery material called cartilage which acts as an easy surface for joint motion but as OA breaks down this cartilage between the bones it causes pain, swelling and debilitation moving the joints. The worse OA gets bones may break down and growths called bone spurs develop or bits of bone or cartilage can chip off becoming loose off the joint. The inflammation process creates enzymes and a protein called cytokines that damage the cartilage even more, can lead to bone on bone during the final stages of OA.  Joint replacement may be needed but will not prevent future OA in other joints.

Other common forms include Rheumatoid Arthritis, Gout, Lupus, Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, and Fibromyalgia. Some of them are referred to as arthritis because of the joint pain and a Rheumatologist is one who treats many forms of them. It is a bit confusing but basically us who suffer from chronic pain, illness and fatigue stick together. We are often referred to as "spoonies" to describe our levels of fatigue, which can be as debilitating, if not more, than the pain.

I live with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia. 

To those living with arthritis, it is much more than just pain and stiffness of the joints. 

Because Rheumatoid Arthritis is a systemic (entire body) disease, it may also affect organs and body systems. When the immune system attacks itself it creates inflammation that causes the tissue that lines the inside of joints which is called the synovium to thicken. The synovium creates a fluid keeps the joints lubricated healthy and moving smoothly. When the immune system attacks the synovium it creates swelling and pain around the joints. The inflammation then attacks the cartilage and creates damage. Joints affected by RA can become loose, deformed, unstable, painful and lose their mobility. Complications are the leading cause of death with RA. If left untreated RA can be fatal. RA can affect the:

  • Skin

  • Eyes

  • Lungs

  • Heart

  • Kidneys

  • Salivary glands

  • Nerve tissue

  • Bone marrow

  • Blood vessels

Fibromyalgia, which was for a long time thought to be a made up disorder is a common for those with RA and OA to end up with, however it is not an autoimmune disease or arthritis. A referral to a Rheumatologist to rule out any other joint pain causing diseases is needed for diagnosis, which can be difficult and prolonged. After diagnosis, a GP is able to treat it. People without any history of arthritis can be diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, especially women. 

Although arthritis is most common among the elderly and women, anyone, any age or race can get a form of arthritis. Every case tends to be different and ranging from mild to moderate and severe. 

Infectious Arthritis

A bacterium, virus or fungus can enter the joint and trigger inflammation. Infections include salmonella and shigella (food poisoning or contamination), chlamydia, gonorrhea and hepatitis C. In many cases, timely treatment with antibiotics may clear the joint infection, but sometimes the arthritis becomes chronic.

Metabolic Arthritis

Uric acid is formed as the body breaks down purines, a substance found in human cells and in many foods. Some people have high levels of uric acid because they naturally produce more than is needed or the body can’t get rid of the uric acid quickly enough. In some people the uric acid builds up and forms needle-like crystals in the joint, resulting in sudden spikes of extreme joint pain, or a gout attack. Gout can come and go in episodes or, if uric acid levels aren’t reduced, it can become chronic, causing ongoing pain and disability.

What Falls Under Arthritis