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Arthritis is a general term used to refer to any disorder that affects the joints. Joints are places where bones meet, such as your elbow or knee. There are more than 100 types of arthritis. Most types of arthritis cause pain or swelling in the joints. Some types also can cause problems in your organs, such as your eyes or skin.

The most common type, osteoarthritis (OSS-tee-oh-ar-THREYE-tuhss), is often related to aging or injury. In osteoarthritis, the slippery tissue that covers the ends of bones in the joint breaks down. When this happens, the bones grind against each other. This causes pain and swelling. It most often affects the fingers, knees, and hips.

Rheumatoid (ROO-muh-toid) arthritis is an autoimmune disease, in which the body's defense system, called the immune system, attacks the lining of the joints throughout the body. Often these are joints in the hands and feet. Rheumatoid arthritis also may affect internal organs.

Gout is a common and painful type of arthritis caused by a buildup of uric acid in the body. Deposits of uric acid in joints — often the big toe — cause extreme pain, swelling, and redness. Other joints may be affected as well.

If you have joint pain, see your doctor. Finding out about arthritis early and getting the right treatment can prevent further joint damage and help control symptoms. Many types of treatment are available, including medicines and surgery.

These steps also might help ease arthritis symptoms:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can strain your knees and hips.
  • Be physically active. Moving all of your joints will help you. Your doctor or nurse can show you some gentle stretching exercises and how to move more easily. Going for a walk every day will help, too.
  • Take a warm shower in the morning.
  • Use an ice pack on sore areas.

Arthritis can make it hard to work and do activities you enjoy. Even if only one joint is affected, you might need to change the way you do many daily activities to use this joint less. Your doctor and therapists can help you find new ways of doing things in your home or workplace, so you can live with less pain.

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More information on Arthritis

Explore other publications and websites

  • Age Page: Arthritis Advice - This publication provides information on the different forms of arthritis, warning signs, treatments, the importance of exercise, and other lifestyle changes that can alleviate the pain of arthritis.
  • Do I Have Arthritis? - This booklet describes what arthritis is, the different types of arthritis, and what you can do to feel better.
  • Employees With Arthritis (Copyright © Job Accommodation Network) - This publication is designed for employers of individuals with arthritis. It describes the causes, symptoms, and treatments for arthritis and also suggests workplace accommodations for employees with arthritis.
  • Handout on Health: Osteoarthritis - This booklet describes osteoarthritis and its symptoms, and provides information about diagnosis, treatment, and current research. It also discusses pain relief, exercise, and quality of life for people with osteoarthritis.
  • Handout on Health: Rheumatoid Arthritis - This booklet describes how rheumatoid arthritis develops and progresses, outlines its causes, and compares the different treatment options.
  • Help Your Arthritis Treatment Work - This easy-to-read pamphlet offers information on how to ease joint pain caused by arthritis and how to prevent damage to the joints. It also includes information on how to read the label of arthritis medicine.
  • Osteoarthritis (Copyright © American College of Rheumatology) - This fact sheet provides general information on osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis. It explains the causes, diagnosis, treatments and the role of a rheumatologist in treating this joint disease.
  • Osteoporosis and Arthritis: Two Common but Different Conditions - Many people confuse osteoporosis with some types of arthritis. This fact sheet discusses the similarities and differences between osteoporosis and arthritis.
  • Psoriatic Arthritis (Copyright © American College of Rheumatology) - This fact sheet provides information on psoriatic arthritis, a chronic skin and nail disease associated with inflammatory arthritis. It explains the causes, diagnosis, treatments, and why a rheumatologist might be needed to make a correct diagnosis of the disease.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis - This website provides general information about rheumatoid arthritis. It covers the causes, risk factors, symptoms, and diagnosis of arthritis, and also offers information on research and treatments.

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Content last updated: September 22, 2009.

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