Is it arthritis?

There’s that twinge of pain again. Whether it’s in your fingers, hand, knee or back, you may be wondering if it’s arthritis.  

According to the CDC, 1 in 4 U.S. adults have arthritis. That’s an incredible number, and it means that you probably know someone who has it. It also means that you’re wise to listen to your body and find out if that pain or stiffness you’re feeling is arthritis. Of course there’s no substitute for talking directly with your primary care physician, but until you’re able to do that, here are some things you should know about arthritis.  

What exactly is arthritis? 

Arthritis is a general term for conditions that affect the joints or tissues around the joint. There are over 100 different types, but the two most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Osteoarthritis affects the greatest number of people and it’s caused when the cartilage between bones wears away. Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition that triggers the immune system and causes it to attack the lining of the joints. It’s unclear why, but rheumatoid arthritis affects more women than men. 

Symptoms of arthritis. 

Often people dismiss their aches and pains and simply attribute them to aging. However, you should never ignore changes in your body. If you feel any of the following, consider it a warning sign and make an appointment with your doctor.  

Pain can be unpredictable or constant and it can occur in one or more parts of the body. It can come on at morning or night and it can disappear just as suddenly as it appears. It may occur when you’re moving or at rest. Keep a log of your pain in a notebook or in a phone app so you can give your doctor details including location, duration, time of day and severity. 

Sometimes the skin over a joint that has arthritis can become swollen and red. Always take swelling seriously and contact your doctor immediately if swelling lasts more than three days or strikes more than three times in one month.  

Not moving as fast as usual in the morning? Hands having trouble holding a coffee cup? Morning stiffness is a classic sign of arthritis and one you should note  

Difficulty moving a joint 
You should be able to move about freely, without pain. If you find you’re having trouble getting out of the car, up from your desk while at work or up from the sofa in the evening, you need to let your doctor know. 

Getting a diagnosis. 

When you go to your doctor with your suspicions, they will want to know about your symptoms. They will test your range of motion and possibly order some blood tests. You may be diagnosed fairly quickly or you may be referred to a specialist.  

What’s next? Control what you can. 

The good news is, that by making a few simple lifestyle changes, you can decrease your chance of getting arthritis. And, if you already have it, these changes may help it from getting worse. Consider making them the foundation of a wellness plan you co-create with your healthcare team.  

Stop smoking 

Maintain a healthy weight 

See your doctor if your joints are swollen, warm or red 
Your doctor will want to check for infection, so don’t assume it’s nothing. 

Protect your joints from repetitive use injuries