Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints and can affect anyone from young children to seniors. It is typically characterized by joint pain and stiffness that make movement painful and difficult, though newer treatment options have helped many patients deal more effectively with symptoms. Additionally, joint health can often be improved with exercise, medication, and the right lifestyle habits.

Arthritis: A Painful History

About 46 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of arthritis that's about one in five Americans, and the number is rising and expected to jump dramatically in the coming years.

But arthritis is not a new phenomenon; it has plagued mankind for hundreds of years. There's evidence in centuries-old skeletal remains of arthritic joints, says Rochelle Rosian, MD, a Cleveland Clinic rheumatologist in Solon, Ohio.

"Over the past 100 years, there's a lot more knowledge of the science of the musculoskeletal condition and the immune system," says Dr. Rosian. Researchers have identified more than 100 different types of arthritis, and counting. Many inflammatory conditions accompanied by fevers and immune dysfunction are now understood to be conditions related to arthritis, and more conditions are added to this list all the time.

Arthritis Symptoms and Types

Arthritis is characterized by pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, as well as by reduced joint mobility. But arthritis appears in different forms, and the causes of arthritis vary by type.. In addition, arthritis inflammation can result from a variety of conditions and diseases, like gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia

Arthritis can be broken down into three main categories. Here are some of the most common types:

Osteoarthritis (OA). Also called degenerative joint disease, this is the most frequently diagnosed form of arthritis. Osteoarthritis occurs when the cartilage inside a joint disintegrates. This form of arthritis most commonly affects the knees, hips, low back, neck, and hands, and most often occurs after the age of 40.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This type of arthritis occurs when the lining inside joints becomes inflamed and irritated, causing joint damage and pain. It most often occurs in small joints in the wrists, fingers, and hands. RA is an autoimmune disease that usually strikes between the ages of 30 and 50. Women are most often affected, though children may also develop RA.

Juvenile arthritis (JA). This includes any type of arthritis that strikes children younger than age 18. What causes arthritis to develop at such an early age is unknown, but it occurs more often in girls than boys. JA typically strikes the ankles, knees, and wrists, and may also affect the hips, neck, jaw, and shoulders. There are many types of juvenile arthritis, the most common being juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or JRA. There are three specific forms or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis: polyarticular (many joints) JRA, pauciarticular (four or fewer joints), and systemic onset (affecting the whole body).

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