Diagnosed with Arthritis? Must-know Disease Facts

April 24, 2023
6 min read
Diagnosed with Arthritis? Must-know Disease Facts

If you have been diagnosed with arthritis, you should know you are not alone. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 54 million people, or 23% of the total population, are living with some form of arthritis in the United States. Of that number, about 24 million are limited in their activities from the condition and more than 25% report suffering from severe joint pain. As such, arthritis is a leading cause of work disability – responsible for $303.5 billion in lost wages and healthcare expenses each year.(1)

Despite these somber statistics, it is essential to know that living well with arthritis is possible. An arthritis diagnosis does not signal the end of your ability to enjoy life. Below you will find a comprehensive overview of arthritis, including symptoms, causes, treatments and other vital information to help people with arthritis live life to the fullest.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a health condition that manifests as inflammation in and around the joints in the body. It is an umbrella term covering more than 100 different diseases that cause joint inflammation. Inflammation, which is the body’s physiological response to illness or injury, can cause stiffness, pain, swelling and, in severe cases, loss of movement.(2)

The types of joints in the body include:

  • Ball and Socket Joint. Ball and socket joints, including the hip and shoulder joints, allow backward, forward, sideways, and rotating movements.
  • Ellipsoidal joints. Ellipsoidal joints, for example the wrist joint, support all movement types except pivotal movement.
  • Hinge Joint. Hinge joints, such as in the fingers, knees, elbows, and toes, allow only bending and straightening movements.
  • Pivot joints. Pivot joints, such as the neck joints, allow limited rotating movements.

What Are the Different Types of Arthritis?

As previously mentioned, there are more than 100 different diseases characterized as arthritis. Each type has their own specific characteristics. The most common forms of arthritis and their clinical features include:(4)

  • Osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis – occurring when the protective cushioning around the joint breaks down.
  • Psoriatic arthritis. Arthritis associated with psoriasis; an autoimmune skin condition characterized by red, scaly skin patches.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. A chronic inflammatory disorder in which the body mistakenly attacks its own tissues, including those of the joints.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis. A form of arthritis in which the small bones in the back can fuse together.
  • Gout. Arthritis characterized by sudden, severe attacks of pain and inflammation – usually in the big toe.
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Arthritis occurring in children characterized by persistent joint pain, swelling and stiffness.

Other forms of arthritis include septic arthritis, thumb arthritis and reactive arthritis.

What Are the Symptoms of and Risk Factors for Arthritis?

Symptoms of arthritis generally occur around the inflamed joints. Such symptoms can include:(2)

  • Swelling
  • Pain or tenderness
  • Stiffness
  • Redness
  • Warmth

The different types of arthritis can present with different symptoms – ranging from mild to severe. Osteoarthritis, for example, does not typically does not cause symptoms anywhere other than the joint. Symptoms that may or may not occur depending on the type and extent of arthritis include fever, rash or general fatigue.

Similarly, causes and risk factors can be specific to the different types of arthritis – but there are several that all forms have in common. These include:(4)

  • Family history. Having a family member with arthritis may increase the likelihood of arthritis. Having certain genes can also make people more susceptible to environmental factors that can trigger arthritis.
  • Age. The risk for most types of arthritis increases with age.
  • Sex. The risk for certain types of arthritis can vary by sex. For example, women are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, while men are more likely to develop gout.
  • Previous injury to the joint. People who have previously suffered from an injury to a joint are more likely to develop arthritis in that joint.
  • Obesity. People with obesity face a higher risk for developing arthritis caused by the excess strain on the joints – particularly the hips, knees and spine.

What Treatment Are Available for Arthritis?

Although there is no cure for arthritis, the good news is that there are many treatments available to treat the condition. The goals of treatment are to keep your symptoms in check and to improve joint function. Your doctor may need to try different treatments or combinations of treatments before finding out what works best for you. Treatment options include:(4)

Medications. Appropriate medications vary by type of arthritis, but commonly used drugs include:

  • Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which help alleviate general pain.
  • Counterirritants, or creams or lotions that help reduce inflammation.
  • Prescription painkillers, which are reserved for extreme cases of pain.
  • Corticosteroids, or injections to help reduce inflammation
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) – a class of drugs indicated to slow the effect of rheumatoid arthritis
  • Biologic response modifiers – a class of drugs used to affect change in the body’s immune response, which can help slow the progression of arthritis.

Therapy. For some types of arthritis, physical therapy and light exercise can help improve symptoms and joint function.

Surgery. Surgery is an option normally reserved for people who have tried the more conservative approaches first. Surgery options for the joint include repair, replacement or fusion.

Lifestyle Approaches to Managing Arthritis

While medications are an essential part of an overall arthritis treatment plan, there are lifestyle adjustments you can make to help improve symptoms and prevent further damage to joints.

Lifestyle-based strategies you can employ to improve arthritis outcomes include:

  • Exercise. While this may seem counterintuitive when you are experiencing pain and stiffness, being sedentary can exacerbate your symptoms. Exercise helps to prevent muscle weakness and inflammation of the tendons other soft tissues around the affected joint. Range of motion exercises, strength training, yoga and low impact, endurance-building activities like walking or swimming are all beneficial.(5)
  • Diet. Certain foods have been shown to reduce inflammation, strengthen bone structure and boost the immune system. In particular, foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D have been shown to improve arthritis symptoms.(6)
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Studies have shown maintaining a healthy weight can limit disease progression and improve symptoms overall. Lower weight decreases the burden on the joints. For example, research has shown that, for every pound lost, there is a four pound reduction in the load exerted on the knee.

Outlook: Living Life with Arthritis

Living with pain is not easy – especially long-lasting pain from arthritis. People with arthritis often must give up their favorite physical activities or make other modifications to their daily life. It is natural to feel anger, anxiety, anger and fear – but you should know that living a high-quality life while managing arthritis is possible.

Take the opportunity to develop new hobbies, follow your doctor’s recommendations for diet and exercises, and stick to your medications. Join support groups to help build a community of people around you going through similar experiences. Living well with arthritis is possible. If you find yourself unable to stop depressed over your condition, talk to your doctor about your feelings and what you are going through emotionally. Talk therapy, medications or other forms of support are available for you.


U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fact Sheets and At A Glances: Arthritis. Last reviewed November 2, 2020.
The Cleveland Clinic. Arthritis. Last reviewed April 5, 2016.
University of Rochester Medical Cancer. Anatomy of a Joint. Accessed November 30, 2020.
The Mayo Clinic. Arthritis. Last reviewed July 19, 2019.
NYU Langone Health. Lifestyle Changes for Rheumatoid Arthritis. Accessed November 29, 2020.
Tedeschi SK, Costenbader KH. Is There a Role for Diet in the Therapy of Rheumatoid Arthritis? Curr Rheumatol Rep. 2016 May
18(5):23. doi: 10.1007/s11926-016-0575-y. PMID: 27032786.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Weight Loss for Adults with Arthritis. Last reviewed September 9, 2020.

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