The three most common types of arthritis



Arthritis is one of the most common chronic conditions, affecting approximately 350 million people worldwide. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, each with different causes, symptoms and treatment options. We look at three of the most prevalent forms of this often debilitating disease.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative type that causes the cartilage cushioning the joints to break down, resulting in pain, swelling and problems moving the joint. OA can affect any joint, but most often weight-bearing joints like your knees, hips, and back.  
OA is the most common form of arthritis. It usually happens with age from the natural wear and tear of the joints, but can also come from joint injuries or obesity, which puts extra stress on your joints.

Symptoms of OA include:

• Stiff, swollen, painful joints.
• Tender joints that are warm to the touch.
• Pain made worse by exercise or any other physical activity.
• A crunching feeling or grinding noises in the joint.
• Limited range of motion of the joints. You may find it difficult doing everyday tasks like getting dressed, combing your hair, and climbing the stairs.

As OA worsens, cartilage will wear away and the bones will rub against each other. This can lead to further joint damage, pain, and loss of motion. 

Treatment for OA typically involves medication like Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for pain relief, and physical therapy to strengthen the muscles around the joint and improve joint function. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. 

Losing weight, staying active, avoiding repetitive movements and good posture can help you manage the symptoms and slow the progression of OA.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes the immune system to attack its own tissues, including the delicate tissue lining the joints (called the synovium). The synovium thickens, causing swelling and pain in and around the joints.  

There’s no known cause of RA, but there may be a strong genetic predisposition. Environmental factors, hormone changes, and an imbalance of intestinal microbes may also be involved in its development of the disease.

Symptoms of RA include:

• Joint pain, tenderness and stiffness that persists for weeks or months. 
• Swollen joints in the hands, wrists, elbows, knees and feet.
• Joint swelling that doesn't go away, and makes daily activities like opening a jar, walking, and driving difficult.
• Morning stiffness lasting over an hour or even most of the day. 
• Joints feel warm and spongy to the touch.

As the disease progresses, you may experience fatigue, loss of appetite, and a fever. If untreated, RA can lead to damage of the cartilage, bone erosion, and joint deformities.

Treatment for RA involves medication like NSAIDs to alleviate pain and stiffness, corticosteroids to control potentially damaging inflammation, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to slow down disease progression.

Low-impact exercises like walking, swimming, and yoga can help decrease pain and stiffness, and strengthen your muscles and joints. If RA limits your daily function, mobility and independence, you may need surgery to relieve pain and restore the function in your joints.

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) affects some people with psoriasis, a condition in which skin cells build up faster than normal, forming red, scaly patches on the surface of your skin. Like psoriasis, PsA is an autoimmune disease, meaning your body attacks its healthy tissue by mistake. In this case, the skin and joints are affected, causing pain, swelling and inflammation of the skin and joints. 

The exact cause of psoriasis and PsA are unknown, but experts believe that genetic, environmental and immunologic factors can contribute to the disease.

Symptoms of PsA include:

• Sausage-like swelling in fingers and toes. 
• Pain in the fingers, wrists, toes, ankles, knees, and lower back. 
• Joint stiffness, which is usually worse in the morning. 
• Pitting, ridging, cracking, discolouration of the fingernails and toenails. Nails may even lift from the nail bed.
• Scaly, itchy, patchy skin on the scalp, elbows, and knees. 

You may also feel overwhelmed with fatigue, and have problems with your eyes (eye pain, redness, irritation, and vision disturbances). 

Treatment for PsA includes medication like NSAIDs to reduce inflammation and pain in the joints, and DMARDs to ease swollen joints and prevent joint damage. Biologics may also be prescribed to improve symptoms.

Topical treatments available in creams, gels, sprays, soaps, and shampoos can help control psoriasis outbreaks. Light therapy, which uses ultraviolet to kill the overactive white blood cells that attack healthy skin cells, may also help. 

In general, walking, swimming and stretching, heat and cold therapies, and getting enough rest is important to manage symptoms and maintain normal joint movement. If this doesn’t help, surgery may be necessary to repair or replace severely damaged joints.

sign off

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24