May is Arthritis Awareness Month, and we’re talking about how this common condition can affect you. Arthritis is a general term used to describe joint pain or disease and is the most common cause of disability in the United States. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis

This is the most common type of arthritis, especially among aging adults. “Osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage between your bones wears away,” says Avni Jain, MD, a primary care physician with Adventist Medical Group. “This causes your bones to start rubbing against each other, causing pain, swelling and, in some cases, limited mobility.” Osteoarthritis is frequently caused by lifestyle factors such as being overweight, doing repetitive exercise movements and injuries. Patients who maintain a healthy weight and avoid joint injuries while exercising are less likely to experience this form of arthritis. “Choosing exercises that involve minimal stress on the joints, such as walking, swimming and bicycling, can help you stay active while also reducing your risk for osteoarthritis,” Dr. Jain says.

Inflammatory Arthritis

This form of arthritis occurs when your immune system overreacts to a bodily threat and mistakenly inflames your joints. Rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis are types of inflammatory arthritis. As the inflammation erodes your joints, it can also damage your organs, eyes and other parts of your body. Inflammatory arthritis can be triggered by environmental factors, such as smoke, allergies and weather changes. While researchers believe that inflammatory arthritis is genetic and may not be preventable, Dr. Jain says early treatment can reduce its harmful effects. “Reducing environmental risks and taking medication can help prevent further joint damage and reduce the pain of inflammatory arthritis,” says Dr. Jain.

Infectious Arthritis

Infectious arthritis occurs when bacteria, viruses or fungi triggers inflammation in your knees, ankles or other joints. Patients with open skin wounds, a history of drug or alcohol abuse or compromised immune systems are at higher risk of infectious arthritis. “In some cases, infectious arthritis is a reaction to an infection somewhere else in the body,” says Dr. Jain. “We often find this condition when patients have food poisoning, contract a sexually transmitted infection or share contaminated needles.” You can reduce the risk of infection by having protected intercourse and eating properly handled food. “If you are experiencing warm, red joints, see a doctor right away for treatment,” says Dr. Jain.

Gout

Gout develops when your body produces more uric acid than it is able to remove and forms crystals in your joints. Gout attacks lead to extreme joint pain, redness and swelling, often occurring in your big toe and lasting for several hours or days.  Those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a family history of gout are more likely to develop the condition. “If you are at high risk of gout, you can reduce your chances of an attack by controlling your weight, reducing your alcohol intake and reducing your consumption of purine-rich foods, such as red meat, mussels and scallops,” says Dr. Jain.

Each case of arthritis is unique and the symptoms range in severity. There is a variety of treatment options available, from over-the-counter medications to surgery. “Diagnosing arthritis and beginning treatment early can reduce the chances of a minor case becoming a chronic issue,” says Dr. Jain. “Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble moving around or experiencing pain, redness and swelling in your joints.”

Sources: Arthritis Foundation, Centers for Disease Control, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Library of Medicine

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