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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and the Arthritis Foundation:

  • Nearly 50 million people in the U.S. report having some form of arthritis that has been diagnosed by a doctor.
  • By 2030, 67 million Americans are anticipated to have arthritis.
  • One in 20 U.S. workers face limitations due to arthritis.
  • Approximately 27 million adults in the United States have the most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease. Most persons over the age of 65 are affected with osteoarthritis in at least one joint, making this condition a leading cause of disability in the U.S.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, the most crippling form of arthritis, affects approximately 1.3 million Americans. Further, the average onset of rheumatoid arthritis in women is between the ages of 30 and 60 years old.
  • Lupus affects women more than men.

The statistics on the prevalence of arthritis are staggering. The disease cripples, maims and alters lives. Following is information to help you understand the difference between arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, what to do if you have been diagnosed and how to prevent further damage to your joints and connective tissue.

What Causes Arthritis?

The cause of most types of rheumatic diseases remains unknown and, in many cases, varies depending on the type of rheumatic disease present. However, researchers believe that some or all of the following may play a role in the development or aggravation of one or more types of rheumatic diseases:

  • Genetics and family history (for example, inherited cartilage weakness)
  • Lifestyle choices (such as being overweight)
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Neurogenic disturbances
  • Metabolic disturbances
  • Excessive wear and tear and stress on a joint(s)
  • Environmental triggers
  • The influence of certain hormones on the body

Types of Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints, can also affect organs of the body and can strike anyone at any age, including children. When someone has RA, the body turns on itself, breaking down the soft tissue called synovian surrounding the joints. People with RA in its early stages experience low-grade fever, muscle aches and excessive fatigue. In later stages of RA, people will notice nodules or raised bumps beneath the skin in the affected area.

RA begins in the smaller joints of the body, but as it progresses, can affect larger joints such as ankles, shoulders and hips. In addition, RA is a symmetrical disease, affecting the same body parts on both sides of the body.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is a degenerative joint disease caused by the breakdown of cartilage around the joints. OA usually affects older adults. The effects of OA are limited to the joints, not other parts of the body. Although people with OA may develop lumps underneath the skin, they are bone spurs around the affected joints - not nodules as they are in RA.

Unlike RA, OA is not symmetrical but can be progressing, affecting larger joints such as the knees, hips and spine.

Symptoms of Arthritis

The following are the most common symptoms of arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently, and different types of rheumatic diseases present different symptoms. In general, symptoms may include:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling in the joint(s)
  • Joint stiffness that lasts for at least one hour in the early morning
  • Chronic pain or tenderness in the joint(s)
  • Warmth and redness in the joint area
  • Limited movement in the affected joint(s)
  • Fatigue

Treatment Options

Treatment may include medications, splints, joint therapies or even surgery. Specific treatment for rheumatoid arthritis will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference