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Types of Arthritis

Comparing 3 Common Arthritic Conditions
  -- By Nicole Nichols, Fitness Instructor & Health Educator
When you hear the term "arthritis," you probably imagine painful and stiff joints. While that is pretty accurate (arthritis literally means "joint inflammation"), there are actually over 100 different types of arthritis, which is the leading cause of disability in the United States. For most people, arthritis is unavoidable since the joints naturally degenerate over time. Most people over 50 years of age show some symptoms of arthritis. In general, arthritis can affect the joints, muscles, skin and internal organs, and there is no known cure for this chronic disease.

Here's a basic overview of the three most common types of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, affects an estimated 21 million adults in the United States alone. Osteoarthritis begins with the breakdown of joint cartilage which results in pain, stiffness, swelling and tenderness. The joints of the fingers, spine, hips and knees, are most often affected, but osteoarthritis can also affect the shoulders, elbows, wrists and ankles. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which affects between two and three million Americans, is the most common form of "inflammatory arthritis." The joint pain, stiffness, warmth, redness and swelling associated with RA can eventually misshape and damage joints permanently and even wear away surrounding ligaments, cartilage and bone. The joints of the fingers, wrists, arms and legs are most often affected, but RA can also affect the shoulders, neck and hips. RA tends to be symmetrical—if one knee or hand has it, for example, the other usually does, too. Fibromyalgia is a common, yet controversial disease that affects about five million Americans. Unlike osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia does not involve the joints. Instead, it affects muscles, ligaments, tendons and soft tissues, but involves the stiffness and pain associated with arthritis. This chronic disease can cause symptoms almost anywhere on the body, but most commonly between the shoulder blades and at the bottom of the neck. No matter what the type, arthritis is a chronic and debilitating condition. But working closely with your doctor and implementing lifestyle changes along with your treatment plan can greatly enhance your quality of life.