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Is arthritis a disease?

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that causes swelling, pain and stiffness. It can get so bad that tissue is destroyed and joints become distorted. In some cases the hip and knee joints are damaged to the extent that they must be replaced. Arthritis can strike anyone, but it’s actually not just one disease. There over 100 types of arthritis that cause varying degrees of damage and pain.

The damage to the joints caused by arthritis may not even be felt in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms appear as the disease develops, and the swelling, pain and discomfort can gradually increase and restrict mobility until even the simplest daily activity can become a struggle to perform. Joint pain can be debilitating, and pain management can become the single most important goal for those who are severely affected.

So what can cause this disease that affects both young and old? Arthritis can be a result of injury, your immune system, or genetics. Arthritis strikes nearly one in five Americans [source: Shiel]. The most common type is called osteoarthritis and it causes loss of the joint cartilage. Some types of arthritis seem to appear suddenly, such as juvenile arthritis and gout. Juvenile arthritis is a chronic condition caused by the immune system reacting against the body. It may come and go, and the reasons are not known. Gout is an arthritic condition that can also attack suddenly, often at night, causing pain, swelling and redness in the joints.

Arthritis can be caused by injury, genetics, your immune system or cartilage wearing down as a result of age. Whether environmentally related or heredity-based, or simply the result of over-use, arthritis is a painful and potentially debilitating disease that affects millions of people around the world.