What is arthritis?

Group of panels showing sore or painful joints associated with arthritis.Arthritis is characterised by an inflammation of the joints (the area in which two bones in the body meet). This can cause difficulties with movement of affected body parts and result in varying degrees of discomfort.

Inflammation can affect one area (or joint) or multiple portions of the body, with symptoms developing over time. Symptoms as a result of inflammation may also develop rapidly. The most common symptoms associated with arthritis conditions are joint stiffness and pain (arthralgia), as well as swelling (inflammation). Such symptoms typically worsen with age which contributes to a decreased range of motion.

While arthritis refers to the common symptoms of stiffness, pain and inflammation affecting the joints, it is not classified as a single condition. There are many forms and variations of joint pain or joint disease.

When inflammation affects a single joint in the body, this is known as monoarthritis. When two or three joints are affected, the condition is known as oligoarthritis. Four or more affected joints in the body is known as polyarthritis.

Symptoms of arthritis can range from mild to moderate or severe. Many may describe their range of discomfort as ‘the same’ for long periods of time (sometimes years) before noticing a distinctive change. The nature of arthritic conditions is that symptoms do progress over time and can worsen to the point of severe. Severe arthritis can lead to chronic pain, greatly affecting the ability to perform normal daily activities. Chronic pain increases risk for permanent changes to the joints. Permanent physical changes can include knobby finger joints, and an array of internally affected areas of the body which can be seen through imaging tests such as X-rays.

Damage through inflammation can also extend beyond the joints and affect surrounding tissues, including those of the eyes, lungs, kidneys, heart and skin.

Arthritis, as a condition is more commonly diagnosed in females than males, especially where excess weight is an issue. Adults over the age of 65 commonly develop arthritis conditions, but inflammation is also known to develop in younger adults, as well as children and teenagers.

As arthritis is a progressive condition, it’s important to seek medical intervention for appropriate treatment. Once the specific form or type is determined and diagnosed, appropriate treatment can be implemented as a way to reduce symptom effects on the body and improve a person’s overall quality of life. 

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