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What is Arthritis? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Types

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What is Arthritis? Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Types

writtenByWritten by: Sofie Wise
Sofie Wise

Sofie Wise

Sofie hopes to create a more sustainable healthcare system by empowering people to make conscious health decisions. Her interests include cooking, reading, being outdoors and painting.

Read more posts by this author.

May 31, 2018 Read Time - 8 minutes

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a disorder of the joints that typically involves inflammation.

A joint is a point in the body at which two bones meet. A joint’s function is to move the body parts that are connected by the bones it intersects. The literal meaning of arthritis is “inflammation of one or more joints.”

Arthritis is usually accompanied by joint pain, or arthralgia.

When only one specific joint is experiencing pain, the disease is classified as monoarthritis. In accordance with this, two to three joints experiencing pain is classified as oligoarthritis, while four or more joints in pain is referred to as polyarthritis.

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Different Types of Arthritis

As demonstrated in the above paragraph, there are many different kinds of arthritis. There are over 100 different types known today, but that number is constantly growing. T

The different types of arthritis range from those related to the wear and tear of cartilage (like osteoarthritis) to conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, in which the overactivation of the immune system causes the joints to swell.

The combined number of different types of arthritis make it the most common chronic illness in the United States.

Let’s take a look at some of the specifics of the disease and its treatment.

Causes of Arthritis

The causes of arthritis vary greatly depending on which kind of arthritis you have. Causes of arthritis may include physical injury, which would lead to osteoarthritis, metabolic abnormalities like gout or pseudogout, hereditary factors, the direct and indirect effects of infections, and/or a misdirected immune system with autoimmune issues.

Some forms of arthritis are caused by a reduction of cartilage. Cartilage is a firm but flexible connective tissue that sits in your joints, nose and ears. Cartilage is meant to protect the joints by absorbing the pressure and shock created when you move or put weight on them. The wearing down of this cartilage can cause inflammation, pain, and ultimately arthritis in the joints.

Another common form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune diseases, which means that the body’s immune system is attacking its own tissues. These attacks affect the synovium, a soft tissue in your joints that makes a fluid that feeds the cartilage and lubricates the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis will attack the synovium and ultimately invade a joint to its destruction. If left untreated rheumatoid arthritis can destroy the bone and the cartilage inside the joint.

Arthritis is classified as a rheumatic disease, which means that its a disease that affects your joints, tendons, ligaments, bones and muscles. Many rheumatic diseases also have the potential to affect internal body areas. Each rheumatic disease is different and requires a specialized treatment plan.

Arthritis Risk Factors

The only major risk factor for arthritis of any kind is genetics. Genetics refer to the qualities and characteristics that are passed on from one family member to another.

Some specific genes that affect your risk for arthritis include:

  • Age – Your risk for acquiring most types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout, increases with age.
  • Previous joint injury – If you have experienced a joint injury in the past, you are far more likely to eventually develop arthritis in the joint.
  • Your sex – Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. The majority of people who have gout, however, are men.
  • Obesity – Carrying excess weight puts extra stress on your joints, particularly your spine, hips and knees. Obese people have a higher risk of developing arthritis.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Symptoms and signs associated with arthritis can include:

  • Joint swelling
  • Joint tenderness
  • Joint redness
  • Joint warmth
  • Limping
  • Locking of the joint
  • Weakness
  • Loss of range of motion in the joint
  • Stiffness

While the main symptoms of arthritis have to do with joint pain and functionality, arthritis can cause symptoms that affect more than just the joints. When a person has arthritis various organs of the body are susceptible to change.

Some non-joint-related symptoms that you may experience when you have arthritis include:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling unwell
  • Anemia
  • Other issues with the lungs, heart or kidneys (depending on severity)

Arthritis Complications

Arthritis complications depend on the severity of your illness and whether or not it affects parts of your body other than your joints. Rheumatoid arthritis, for example, can affect the kidneys, eyes, lungs, and more. Chronic joint inflammation may lead to permanent joint damage and loss of joint function, which can make movement difficult or even impossible long term.

Diagnosing Arthritis

If your unsure on where to go for your arthritis diagnosis, seeing your primary care physician (PCP) is a good first step. Your PCP will perform a physical exam to see whether there is fluid around the joints, whether your joints are warm or red, and whether the joints have full range of motion. Your PCP can also refer you to a specialist if they think you need it.

Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you may consider booking an appointment with a rheumatologist right off the bat. Rheumatologists are specifically trained to handle arthritic diseases and may be able to diagnose and treat you more quickly than your PCP.

To diagnose what kind of arthritis you have, your doctor will extract and analyze inflammation levels in your blood and joint fluids. Some other common diagnostic tests that your doctor may run include blood tests that check specific types of antibodies like anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP), rheumatoid factor (RF), and antinuclear antibody (ANA).

Your doctor may also have you get an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan to get a better look at your bones and cartilage. This will allow them to rule out other diagnoses like bone spurs or other bone-related issues.

It is important to get an arthritis diagnosis as early as possible to help prevent irreversible damage and or disability. Implementing proper exercise, rest, medication, and physical therapy regimens will help limit damage to your joints.

If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of arthritis, be proactive and book an appointment with your physician today.

Arthritis Treatment

Arthritis treatment focuses on pain reduction and prevention of further damage to the joints. Pain treatment is specific to the individual, so it will take some time to figure out what management techniques work for you. Some people find that heating pads and ice packs do the trick, while others might use movement assistance devices like canes or walkers to help take pressure off sore joints.

Improving joint function is also crucial to managing your arthritis. Your doctor may prescribe a combination of treatment methods to achieve best results, which generally includes physical therapy, home remedies, cold-pack application, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, biologic medications, immune-altering medications, and/or surgical operations. Some arthritic pain requires injections for treatment. Rheumatoid arthritis may require medications to suppress the immune system.

Some arthritis medications that may be used for treatment include:

  • Analgesics – Analgesics like hydrocodone (Vicodin) or acetaminophen (tylenol) can help manage the pain of arthritis but will not help decrease inflammation in the joints.
  • Menthol or capsaicin creams – Menthol or capsaicin creams can block the transmission of pain signals from your joints, limiting the pain that you feel with arthritis.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – NSAIDs like ibuprofen and salicylates help control both pain and inflammation. Take caution when using salicylates because they have the ability to thin the blood.
  • Immunosuppressants – Immunosuppressants like cortisone or prednisone help reduce inflammation in the joints.

Eating for Arthritis

For most forms of arthritis, diet has no effect on the condition. Certain foods, however, have been proven to fight inflammation, strengthen bones and boost the immune system, all of which may help with arthritis symptoms.

Here are some foods to incorporate into your diet if you are suffering from arthritis symptoms:

  • Fish or fish oil – Certain types of fish are packed with inflammation fighting omega-3 fatty acids, so experts recommend that anyone suffering from arthritic symptoms eat at least 3 to 4 ounces of fish twice a week. Some omega-3 rich fish include salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring.
  • Soy – Soy is a great alternative for those who don’t love fish. Rich in those same heart healthy fatty acids, tofu and edamame can help fight inflammation and reduce your symptoms.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil (and other healthy fats) – Extra virgin olive oil is full of heart healthy fats, as well as something called oleocanthal, which has anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal properties. Not an olive oil fan? You can get these healthy fats from avocados, safflower oils, and even walnut oil, too!
  • Beans – Beans are fiber packed, a nutrient that helps lower CRP. They’re also a great source of protein, which is crucial to muscle health and joint support. Beans are also rich in magnesium, iron, zinc, potassium, and folic acid, which all support hearth and immune system health.
    • Book on our free mobile app or website.

      Our doctors operate in all 50 states and same day appointments are available every 15 minutes.

    • See a doctor, get treatment and a prescription at your local pharmacy.

    • Use your health insurance just like you normally would to see your doctor.


What is the long-term outlook for those with arthritis?

There is no cure for arthritis, but proper treatment can help greatly reduce your symptoms.

In addition to using traditional treatments that your doctor recommends, you can also make a number of lifestyle changes that can help you manage your disease and feel better.

Most PlushCare articles are reviewed by M.D.s, Ph.Ds, N.P.s, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. Click here to learn more and meet some of the professionals behind our blog. The PlushCare blog, or any linked materials are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. For more information click here.

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