The Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis symptoms can range from very mild to very severe. It is characterized by the breakdown of the joint's cartilage. Cartilage is the part of the joint that cushions the ends of bones. Cartilage breakdown causes bones to rub against each other, resulting in pain and loss of movement. Osteoarthritis usually affects hands and weight-bearing joints such as knees, hips, feet and the back.
Physicians make a diagnosis of OA based on a physical exam and history of symptoms. X-rays are used to confirm diagnosis. Most people over 60 reflect the disease on X-ray, and about one-third have actual symptoms.
Rheumatoid arthritis (rue-ma-TOYD arth-write-tis)(RA), involves inflammation in the lining of the joints and/or other internal organs. RA typically affects many different joints. It is typically chronic, which means it lasts a long time, and can be a disease of flare-ups. RA is a disease that systematically affects the entire body and is one of the most common forms of arthritis. It is characterized by the inflammation of the membrane lining the joint, which causes pain, stiffness, warmth, redness and swelling.
The inflamed joint lining, can invade and damage bone and cartilage. Inflammatory cells release enzymes that may digest bone and cartilage. The involved joint can lose its shape and alignment, resulting in pain and loss of movement. Rheumatoid arthritis affects 2.1 million Americans, mostly women. Onset is usually in middle-age, appears more frequently in older people, but also affects children and young adults 1.5 million women have rheumatoid arthritis compared to 600,000 men.
The symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Early in the disease, people may notice general fatigue, soreness, stiffness and aching. Pain and swelling may occur in the same joints on both sides of the body and will usually start in the hands or feet. RA affects the wrist and many of the hand joints, but usually not the joints that are closest to the fingernails (except the thumb). RA also can affect elbows, shoulders, neck, knees, hips and ankles, and over time, inflamed joints may become damaged. Other symptoms include lumps, called rheumatoid nodules, under the skin in areas that receive pressure, such as the back of the elbows.
Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis
The cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet known. However, it is known that RA is an autoimmune disease. The body's natural immune system does not operate as it should, resulting in the immune system attacking healthy joint tissue and causing inflammation and subsequent joint damage.
Physicians diagnose RA based on the overall pattern of symptoms, medical history, physical exam, X-rays and lab tests including a test for rheumatoid factor. Rheumatoid factor is an antibody found in the blood of about 80 percent of adults with RA. However, rheumatoid factor may be seen in other conditions besides RA.
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