Issue 4 Stories
On-Call Advice

What is arthritis, what causes it, and can people avoid getting it?

Arthritis is inflammation in or around a joint. Typical symptoms include swelling, warmth or redness, pain, tenderness, stiffness, and loss of motion in the joint. Although we usually see arthritis in older adults, the condition can affect people of all ages, including children.

There are more than 100 types of arthritis. Some of the most common types are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and gout. Osteoarthritis, a form of degenerative arthritis, occurs when the cartilage, or cushioning tissue between bones, wears away and allows bone to rub against bone. Degenerative arthritis is caused by normal wear and tear on the joints over time. Excessive weight, as well as potential genetic factors, contribute to this degeneration.

Rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are forms of inflammatory arthritis, autoimmune conditions in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. Rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the lining of joints, eventually causing bone erosion and swelling, and it can also attack other tissues and organs. Psoriatic arthritis affects up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis, a skin condition characterized by itchy red patches and scales. Pain, stiffness and swelling in the affected joint are the main symptoms. Both rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are thought to be caused by genetics and environmental factors like extreme stress or injury.

Gout, a form of metabolic arthritis, occurs when too much uric acid in the blood causes crystals to form in the joints—especially those of the big toes. Gout also can affect tendons and other parts of the body. The risk of getting gout is higher if you’re male, overweight, consume alcohol in excess, or have a diet high in meat or fish that contain chemical substances called purines.

There is no failsafe way to avoid getting arthritis, but there are things you can do to reduce your risk. To lower your risk of degenerative arthritis, maintain a healthy weight, lower your blood sugar if it’s too high, and maintain flexibility and motion in your joints with regular exercise.

To lower your risk of rheumatoid arthritis or slow its progression, eat a healthy diet that is low in sugar, sodium and fat, and avoid smoking and anything else that increases inflammation within the body. To avoid gout or lessen its effects, moderate your intake of alcohol and purine-rich foods, and maintain a healthy weight.

To learn more about arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation at www.arthritis.org.

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