What Is Arthritis?

animated hip with inflammation at the joint

Arthritis is the inflammation (or stress) of one or more joints. It usually causes joint pain, swelling, stiffness and limited movement.

There are more than 150 different types of arthritis. The cause of some forms is unknown, but arthritis can also be the result of disease, infection, genetic defect, injury, or overuse.

Arthritis affects more than 50 million adults in the United States and is the nation's most common cause of disability. There is no known cure, but proper early treatment can help prevent permanent joint damage.

Arthritis-related joint symptoms may include:

  • Pain
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning
  • Inflammation
  • Reduced ability to move the joint
  • Redness and warmth of the skin around a joint

These symptoms can affect joints throughout the body, including the:

animation of a male body emphasizing the shoulder, spine, hips, knees, and hand wrist

Arthritis may also cause damage to joint cartilage and surrounding structures. This type of damage can lead to weakness of the joint and can affect many basic daily tasks, such as walking, climbing stairs, using a computer keyboard and, even, brushing your teeth.

Diagnosis of Arthritis

If you think you may have arthritis, your health care team will ask questions about your medical history, then perform a physical exam.

If you have arthritis, the physical exam may reveal:

  • Fluid around a joint
  • Warm, red, tender joints
  • Difficulty moving a joint (called "limited range of motion")

Your health care team may also perform blood tests and joint x-rays to check for infection and other causes of arthritis. Your doctor may also remove a sample of joint fluid with a needle and send it to a lab to be checked.

Treatment at Penn

Though there is no known cure for arthritis, proper early diagnosis and creation of a personalized treatment plan can help you prevent permanent joint damage. Arthritis treatment options include lifestyle changes, medication and even surgery for severely damaged joints. The goal of all these treatments is to reduce pain, improve mobility, and prevent further joint damage.

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