Arthritis: Answering the what, why & how

by | February 25, 2022

While there are many different types of arthritis, the symptoms can be similar to one another but the treatments vary.


Arthritis is defined as acute or chronic inflammation in the joints. While there are many different types of arthritis, the symptoms can be very similar to one another. Despite bearing such similarities, treatments vary differently between each type and cause of arthritis. Additionally, there are also specific symptoms that characterise the types of arthritis, namely stiffness and joint pains.


What are the causes and risk factors?

Different types of arthritis have different causes:

  • Osteoarthritis – degeneration, or ‘wear and tear’ of the joint cartilage.
  • Inflammatory arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis/lupus arthritis/psoriatic arthritis/crystal-induced arthritis – e.g. gout and pseudogout) – can be related to chronic conditions of the body.
  • Septic arthritis – caused by infection of the joints.

The list above is not exhaustive as there are also many other medical conditions that may lead to symptoms of arthritis such as a viral infection.


The risk factors too differ for different types of arthritis:


The most common form of arthritis globally, osteoarthritis (OA) is the progressive wearing down of cartilage that helps to cushion impact between the bones. As it wears down, bones start to rub on the bone, leading to symptoms such as joint pain and loss of flexibility. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint, but the most common regions are the knee, hips, spine and hands.

Risk factors are as follows:

  • Age – the risk of getting osteoarthritis increases with age.
  • Sex – women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis.
  • High BMI – increased body mass index increases stress on the joints.
  • Previous joint injuries.
  • Repeated stress on joints.


Inflammatory arthritis

The causes and risk factors of inflammatory arthritis are much less understood. However, risk factors for inflammatory arthritis often stem from family history and genetic risk factors. Some are caused by an overactive autoimmune response, sometimes triggered by a viral or bacterial infection.


Septic arthritis

This is a serious form of arthritis that should be treated as soon as possible. Septic arthritis is often caused by bacteria entering the joint spaces. This can happen either through a direct injury to the joint such as an animal bite or an open wound, spread of bacteria from other areas of infection in the body, or as a complication of a procedure done to the joint. Though uncommon, symptoms such as high fever, severe joint pain with swelling and a suspicious history can indicate possible septic arthritis. Individuals more susceptible to this include those with a weakened immune system, a history of joint surgery/procedure, recreational injectable drug users and also those with certain sexually-transmitted infections.


What are the signs and symptoms?

Though the causes vary for different types of arthritis, the signs and symptoms are very similar. Main symptoms include pain, reduced range of motion of the joints as well as difficulty in performing daily functions such as dressing or eating.

With inflammatory arthritis, one may experience early morning stiffness that affects the body symmetrically on both sides. In acute flares, an individual may also experience a fever. It is highly advisable to seek a medical opinion if you feel that you may have symptoms pertaining to arthritis, especially to rule out a possible septic arthritis.


What treatments are available?

There are a variety of treatments for arthritis. Analgesia and anti-inflammatory medication make up the first line of treatment to manage the symptoms. In more serious cases, disease-modifying drugs can also be considered to rectify the course of the disease (especially in inflammatory arthritis) – these medications target certain inflammatory cells or chemicals which are part of the immune response. Sometimes, a referral to a surgeon may be required to correct deformities that may be sustained from the disease, or if joint replacement is required.

Many patients will also benefit from physiotherapy or occupational therapy to help reduce pain and stiffness in the joints, and to be able to continue to carry out daily activities and functions. Prompt medical review is recommended to allow early treatment of these conditions.


Dr Shariff Rizwan is a resident doctor at DTAP clinic.

(** PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash/Towfiqu Barbhuiya)




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