If you are suffering from stiff, painful, or less mobile joints, getting the right diagnosis for your condition will ensure that you receive the right type of treatment for your joint problem. Several types of arthritis can affect joints and treatment options can differ depending on which type of arthritis you have. Osteoarthritis (OA) may be the most common type, but others are common enough. Among the more common are:
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): Unlike OA, RA is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s protective immune system turns on what it should protect. Although RA can affect a number of systems in our bodies, it most commonly affects joints. Common sites are hands, wrists, feet, elbows, knees, and ankles. RA causes joint swelling, pain, and eventually can cause damage and loss of movement in the affected joints. Morning stiffness is a common symptom that usually lasts much longer in RA than in OA. The damage from RA is usually more progressive and severe than OA and can occur over a shorter period of time.
Untreated, RA can result in deformity of the affected joints. Just as for OA, there is no cure for RA, but there are treatments available that can prevent the progression of the disease. Early diagnosis leads to better control of the progression of RA.
RA is diagnosed by a rheumatologist, a specialist doctor, who will take a history of symptoms, do a physical examination, and order blood tests. RA, which is more common in women than in men, can occur at any age but the disease tends to develop earlier in women.
Gout: This painful type of inflammatory arthritis is caused, in part, by high uric acid levels in the blood. The severe pain and swelling in the joints is due to uric acid crystals causing inflammation, most commonly in the big toe or foot. Flare ups of gout are episodic, with sudden onset of pain and swelling that usually go away after about a week, with no symptoms between episodes. Gout can affect anyone, but it is extremely rare in children. Your doctor will diagnose your gout by asking about your medical history, examining the affected joint, and doing a blood test. The definitive diagnosis, though, is to find uric acid crystals in a sample of fluid drawn from the affected joint.
Pseudogout: This form of arthritis, which is characterized by sudden, painful swelling in one or more joints, is similar to gout, but is caused by calcium crystals instead of uric acid crystals. Calcium crystal deposits increase with age and can sometimes be seen on x-rays even without causing any symptoms. Identification of the crystal in joint fluid is the definitive diagnosis. The most commonly affected joints in pseudogout are the knee and wrist.
Psoriatic arthritis: This form of arthritis affects some people who have psoriasis, a skin condition that features red patches of skin topped with silvery scales. Most people develop psoriasis first and are later diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, but the joint problems can sometimes begin before skin lesions appear. Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are the main symptoms of psoriatic arthritis. Diagnosing psoriatic arthritis can be a challenge because its symptoms are similar to other arthritic conditions.
Osteoporosis: Although not a form of arthritis, people sometimes confuse OA with osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which there is a loss of bone mass, causing the bone to become weak, brittle, and easily broken (fractured). Osteoporosis fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine. Seeking an osteoporosis diagnosis is important because medical treatments and self-help approaches can improve or slow the progression of the disease. Both men and women may develop osteoporosis as they age, but the disease is more common in women.