Rheumatoid Arthritis FAQ

Arthritis Basics

1. What is arthritis?

Arthritis describes more than 100 conditions that affect the joints or tissues around the joint. Experts have developed public health definitions of arthritis that include arthritis or related rheumatologic conditions. Most types of arthritis cause pain and stiffness in and around the affected joint or joints. Some types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, also affect the immune system and some internal organs of the body. 

2. What are the most common types of arthritis?

The most common form of arthritis in the United States is osteoarthritis. Other types of arthritis include gout, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

3. What causes arthritis?

Experts don’t know the cause of many forms of arthritis. Gout (caused by elevated uric acid levels) and specific infections are exceptions.

Scientists are studying the role of factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environment in various types of arthritis to learn more about arthritis risk factors and possible causes. 

4. What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Different types of arthritis have different symptoms. Pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints are common symptoms for most types of arthritis. Depending on the type of arthritis, symptoms can develop suddenly or gradually over time. Symptoms may come and go, or persist over time. 

5. Am I at risk for arthritis?

Certain factors make it more likely that you will develop arthritis. Some of these risk factors can be changed while others are not. 

6. Are people with arthritis more likely to develop complications from the flu?

People with some forms of inflammatory arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, have weakened immune systems, which can make them more likely to develop complications from the flu. Some medications used to treat inflammatory arthritis can also weaken the immune system.

Most people who get the flu do not need medical treatment and recover in less than two weeks. However people with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to flu-related complications, such as sinus infections, ear infections, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

7. How many adults in the United States have arthritis?

An estimated 54.4 million US adults have arthritis. As our nation’s population ages, the prevalence is expected to increase.

8. Can children get arthritis?

Yes, children can get arthritis. The most common type of arthritis found in children is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also known as childhood arthritis or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Like other types of arthritis, JIA can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in one or more joints. Other symptoms may include fever, fatigue, rash, and loss of appetite. The disease damages joints, which can make it difficult to do everyday things such as walking, dressing, and playing. Damage caused by JIA is permanent, so early diagnosis and proper treatment are important to prevent or minimize permanent damage. Some children with JIA achieve permanent remission, which means the disease is no longer active. 

9. Can I prevent arthritis?

There are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing some types of arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight decreases your risk of developing osteoarthritis and gout. Protecting your joints from injuries or overuse can reduce your risk of osteoarthritis.

Treating and Managing Arthritis

1. What should I do if I think I have arthritis?

Talk to your doctor if you have arthritis symptoms such as pain, stiffness, or swelling in or around one or more of your joints. Doctors usually diagnose arthritis using the patient’s medical history, physical examination, X-rays, and blood tests. It is possible to have more than one form of arthritis at the same time. There are many forms of arthritis, and diagnosing the specific type you have can help your doctor determine the best treatment. The earlier you understand your arthritis, the earlier you can start managing your disease, reducing pain, and making healthy lifestyle changes.

2. How is arthritis treated?

The focus of arthritis treatment is to control pain, minimize joint damage, and improve or maintain physical function and quality of life. In inflammatory types of arthritis, it is also important to control inflammation. According to the American College of Rheumatology, arthritis treatment can include medications, nondrug therapies such physical therapy or patient education, and sometimes surgery.

Managing your arthritis symptoms is very important as well. Learn about arthritis self-management.

3. How can I manage my arthritis?

Properly managing your arthritis can help to decrease pain, improve function, stay productive, and lower health care costs. Self-management is what you do day-to-day to manage your condition and stay healthy. Practice proven self-management strategies to reduce arthritis pain so you can pursue the activities that are important to you.

4. Is exercise good for people who have arthritis?

Research shows that arthritis-friendly physical activity is good for people with arthritis. Moderate physical activity 5 or more days a week can help to relieve arthritis pain and stiffness and give you more energy. Regular physical activity can also lift your mood and make you feel more positive.

5. What should I do if I have pain when I exercise?

It’s normal to have pain, stiffness, and swelling after starting a new physical activity program. It may take 6 to 8 weeks for your joints to get used to your new activity level, but sticking with your activity program will result in long-term pain relief. Here are some tips to help you manage pain during and after exercise

Until your pain improves, modify your physical activity program by exercising less frequently (days per week) or for shorter periods of time (amount of time each session) or with less intensity. Try a different type of exercise to reduce pressure on the joints—for example, switch from walking to water aerobics.
Do proper warm-up and cool-down before and after exercise.
Exercise at a comfortable pace—you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising. Make sure you have good fitting, comfortable shoes.

See your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain that is sharp, stabbing, and constant.
  • Pain that causes you to limp.
  • Pain that lasts more than 2 hours after exercise or gets worse at night.
  • Pain or swelling that does not get better with rest, medication, or hot or cold packs.
  • Large increases in swelling or if your joints feel “hot” or are red.
  • 6. How does being overweight affect arthritis?

    It’s important for people with arthritis to maintain a healthy weight. For people who are overweight or obese, losing weight reduces pressure on joints, particularly weight bearing joints like the hips and knees. In fact, losing as little as 10 to 12 pounds can reduce pain and improve function for people with arthritis.

    At any age, low-impact, arthritis-friendly physical activity and diet changes can help you lose weight. 

    Page last reviewed: October 19, 2017Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion , Division of Population Health


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