Arthritis is pain or disease in one or more joints. There are many types of arthritis. Types such as rheumatoid arthritis cause inflammation in the joints. Other types wear away the cartilage between joints, such as osteoarthritis. This makes the bones of the joint rub together when you move the joint. An infection from bacteria, a virus, or a fungus can also cause arthritis. Your symptoms may be constant, or symptoms may come and go. Arthritis often gets worse over time and can cause permanent joint damage.

What increases my risk for arthritis?

  • A family history of arthritis
  • Infection, trauma, or injury to the joint
  • Obesity
  • A disease such as diabetes, heart disease, hypothyroidism, or psoriasis
  • An immune deficiency disorder, such as AIDS or lupus

What are the signs and symptoms of arthritis?

  • Pain, swelling, or stiffness in the joint
  • Limited range of motion in the joint
  • Warmth or redness over the joint
  • Tenderness when you touch the joint
  • Stiff joints in the morning that loosen with movement
  • A creaking or grinding sound when you move the joint
  • Fever

How is arthritis diagnosed?

  • Blood tests are used to measure the amount of inflammation in your body.
  • An x-ray, CT, MRI, or ultrasound may be used to check for joint damage, swelling, or loss of bone. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious damage. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A sample of the fluid in the joint may be tested for uric acid or calcium crystals, or for signs of infection.

How is arthritis treated?

Treatment will depend on the type of arthritis you have and if it is severe. You may need any of the following:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Steroid medicine helps reduce swelling and pain.
  • Surgery may be needed to repair or replace a damaged joint.

What can I do to manage my symptoms?

  • Rest your painful joint so it can heal. Your healthcare provider may recommend crutches or a walker if the affected joint is in a leg.
  • Apply ice or heat to the joint. Both can help decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your joint for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. You can apply heat for 20 minutes every 2 hours. Heat treatment includes hot packs or heat lamps.

Elevate your joint. Elevation helps reduce swelling and pain. Raise your joint above the level of your heart as often as you can. Prop your painful joint on pillows to keep it above your heart comfortably.

What can I do to manage arthritis?

  • Talk to your healthcare providers about your arthritis medicines. Some medicines may only be needed when you have arthritis pain. You may need to take other medicines every day to prevent arthritis from getting worse. Your healthcare providers will help you understand all your medicines and when to take them. It is important to take the medicines as directed, even if you start to feel better. You can continue to have joint damage and inflammation even if you do not feel it.

Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Ask if you need to be on a special diet. A diet rich in calcium and vitamin D may decrease your risk of osteoporosis. Foods high in calcium include milk, cheese, broccoli, and tofu. Vitamin D may be found in meat, fish, fortified milk, cereal and bread. Ask if you need calcium or vitamin D supplements.

  • Go to physical or occupational therapy as directed. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve flexibility and range of motion. You may also be shown non-weight-bearing exercises that are safe for your joints, such as swimming. Exercise can help keep your joints flexible and reduce pain. An occupational therapist can help you learn to do your daily activities when your joints are stiff or sore.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Extra weight puts increased pressure on your joints. Ask your healthcare provider what you should weigh. If you need to lose weight, he or she can help you create a weight loss program. Weight loss can help reduce pain and increase your ability to do your activities.
  • Wear flat or low-heeled shoes. This will help decrease pain and reduce pressure on your ankle, knee, and hip joints.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can damage your bones and joints. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.

What support devices can help manage arthritis?

  • Orthotic shoes or insoles help support your feet when you walk.
  • Crutches, a cane, or a walker may help decrease your risk for falling. They also decrease stress on affected joints.

Devices to prevent falls include raised toilet seats and bathtub bars to help you get up from sitting. Handrails can be placed in areas where you need balance and support.

  • Devices to help with support and rest include splints to wear on your hands and a firm pillow while you sleep. Use a pillow that is firm enough to support your neck and head.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever and severe joint pain or swelling.
  • You cannot move the affected joint.
  • You have severe joint pain you cannot tolerate.
  • You have a new or worsening rash.
  • Your pain or swelling does not get better with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.