Strictly put, arthritis is any disease that involves an inflammation of the joints. According to the Arthritis Foundation, “More than 100 forms of arthritis and related diseases exist, affecting approximately 46 million Americans today.” The myriad types of arthritis all occur in varying parts of the body, with varying severity, and for different reasons. Of all the types of arthritis, three of the most common stand out — osteoarthritis (OA), rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Osteoarthritis. Older adults or those who have played high-impact sports or been in major accidents may experience stiffness and minor aches and pains, or all the way up to bone-grinding pain whenever they move. This is typical osteoarthritis — the result of joints wearing down over time with excessive stress or repetition applied. Osteoarthritis can be effectively treated with exercises and weight loss to slow the progression of the disease, and it is the direct result of mechanical wear-and-tear on the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you know it beyond a shadow of a doubt. RA is believed to be an autoimmune disease that attacks the synovium (joint lining) and causes severe inflammation. This form of arthritis occurs regardless of joint stress and must be treated, or it will progress to crippling levels very quickly. It is a degenerative disease that requires early treatment to avoid needing joint replacement surgery to maintain function.
Systemic lupus erythematosus. Commonly called "lupus," this is potentially the most destructive common form of arthritis. Lupus is an autoimmune disease similar to rheumatoid arthritis, except that it can attack any part of the body. If identified early enough, the symptoms of lupus can generally be effectively managed to allow for a healthy and active life. This disease can be difficult to identify due to the wide range of symptoms, which will change depending on which part of the body is affected.
Living with arthritis. Regardless of the type of arthritis, a good diet and sufficient exercise is essential. In most cases, other therapies will be needed to control symptoms as well, but it all starts with overall health.