Arthritis is a term used to describe more than 100 different conditions that affect the joints in the body. The word “arthritis” actually means inflammation of a joint. Although many types of arthritis have common aspects, each type has its own pattern of symptoms and affects different people in different ways.
Two major forms of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, is also known as degenerative joint disease or "wear and tear" arthritis. It most frequently occurs in weight-bearing joints, mainly knees, hips and ankles but can occur in the hand and upper extremities as well.
In the hand, rheumatoid arthritis is often the more common and recognizable form of arthritis. With rheumatoid arthritis, the body's immune system appears to go awry and attacks healthy parts of the body, particularly the joints. In severe cases, the joints may become deformed.
While there is no cure for arthritis, advances in technology continue to develop new ways to manage symptoms. The goals of treatment are to reduce pain, increase the strength of the joints, maintain or improve joint movement and reduce the disabling effects. Treatment often depends on the joints involved and can include medicines, lifestyle changes, physical therapy and surgery.
The most common medications used to treat arthritis are pain relievers known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen and can be either over-the-counter or prescription medications. While NSAIDs often work well, long-term use of these drugs is not recommended as they can cause stomach problems, increased risk of heart attack or stroke and gastrointestinal bleeding.
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