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Arthritis: A Quick Overview

An Overview of Arthritis

  • What it is: Arthritis refers to more than 100 diseases that affect the joints and the tissues that surround them. Literally, arthritis means joint inflammation.
  • How it's diagnosed: Doctors review your symptoms, including pain, and conduct a physical exam that includes your ability to move your joints to help them know whether you have arthritis. They may also use tests, including blood tests or X-rays.
  • How it's treated: To ease the pain of arthritis, treatment usually includes a combination of rest, medications, and exercise. Learning to respond effectively to stress and adapting your normal activities to accommodate any limited movement you have also helps. Some people need surgery.

Arthritis refers to many diseases that affect the joints and the muscles, tendons, cartilage, and ligaments that surround them. When a joint is inflamed, it may become red, swollen, and tender to the touch. The area may also feel warm.

Arthritis has been documented in fossilized skeletons as old as 2.5 million years. The first written reference to a joint ailment was made some 2,400 years ago. Since that time, our understanding of arthritis has grown tremendously. Significant advances in understanding the disease process continue to be made.

One of the most important things researchers have discovered is that in many cases, you may have more control over reducing the symptoms of your arthritis than you may think. Unfortunately, the Arthritis Foundation reports that the majority of Americans are convinced that there is nothing that can be done about arthritis. Consequently, as many as 40% of people who say they have chronic joint symptoms have not received a doctor's diagnosis.

The focus of this center is osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, which affects millions of people. See What are the different types of arthritis? for an overview of other types.

If you have any type of arthritis, you have an important role in managing it. Successful treatment depends, in part, on how you approach your condition and the steps you take to overcome the challenges it presents.