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Osteoarthritis: Introduction

Osteoarthritis is an ongoing, progressive disease that affects the joints of the body as the cartilage of joints breaks down over time. Osteoarthritis is also called degenerative joint disease.

The joints of the body are the areas where two of more bones meet. In these places, the ends of the bones are protected by a tissue called cartilage, which helps bones to move easily without wearing away the bone tissue. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage becomes torn or thin. This results in the symptoms of osteoarthritis, such as joint pain and swelling.

The way that the disease affects people varies greatly from person to person, but most often affects fingers, hips, back, knees, toes, and neck. Symptoms of osteoarthritis can be mild, moderate, or severe.

Osteoarthritis can also cause inflammation of the synovial membranes. Healthy synovial membranes line and protect the joints and allow smooth and free movement. When synovial membranes are inflamed, they become swollen, tender and warm, and are unable to move freely. Osteoarthritis can also result in other complications. For more details on complications and symptoms, refer to symptoms of osteoarthritis.

Risk factors for developing osteoarthritis include being over 45 years old, overweight, joint injury, a sedentary lifestyle, and having family members with osteoarthritis.

Making a diagnosis of osteoarthritis begins with taking a thorough medical history, including symptoms, and completing a physical examination. X-rays or MRI may be done to determine if there is joint or nerve damage.

Medical testing may include a variety of tests, including blood tests that are performed to rule out other causes of joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These include a rheumatoid factor test, complete blood test (CBC), C-reactive protein, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, joint X-rays, and an analysis of the "lubricating" fluid in the joints (synovial fluid).

It is possible that a diagnosis of osteoarthritis can be missed or delayed because some people have no symptoms and because the disease progresses gradually and early symptoms can be mild or assumed to be associated with other conditions, such as aging. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of osteoarthritis.

Treatment for osteoarthritis varies depending on the severity of symptoms, the presence of complications, a person's age and medical history, and other factors. Osteoarthritis cannot be cured, but treatment can help to reduce symptoms and minimize destruction of joints and other complications. Treatment can include a combination of medication, physical therapy, and surgery. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of osteoarthritis. ...more »

Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a form of arthritis typically caused by age-related wear-and-tear. In diagnosis, it must be distinguished from other types of arthritis including rheumatoid arthritis (second-most common type, affecting younger adults and juveniles), and various types of secondary arthritis that are caused by an underlying condition: reactive arthritis caused by an infection, psoriatic arthritis from psoriasis, gonococcal arthritis from gonorrhea, and others. Other possible conditions with arthritis-like symptoms include ankylosing spondylitis (affecting the spine) and gout. ...more »

Osteoarthritis: Symptoms

The types and severity of symptoms of osteoarthritis vary between individuals. At the onset of the disease, the symptoms of osteoarthritis can be vague and develop slowly. Many people may have no symptoms in early stages.

As osteoarthritis progress, joint pain occurs. Joint pain progresses in severity over time and can lead to difficulty ...more symptoms »

Osteoarthritis: Treatments

There is no cure for osteoarthritis, but with early recognition and treatment, it is possible to minimize and delay joint damage and complications of the disease, such as chronic pain and disability. The most successful treatment plans usually use a multipronged approach, including physical therapy, appropriate periods of rest and exercise, medications, and in some cases ...more treatments »

Osteoarthritis: Misdiagnosis

A diagnosis of osteoarthritis may be delayed or missed because early symptoms may be mild and intermittent and develop slowly. In addition, some people do not experience symptoms in early stages of osteoarthritis. Symptoms may also be mistakenly attributed to other conditions and diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, minor joint trauma, aging, or excessive exercise. ...more misdiagnosis »

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

Treatments for Osteoarthritis

Home Diagnostic Testing

Home medical testing related to Osteoarthritis:

Wrongly Diagnosed with Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis: Related Patient Stories

Alternative Treatments for Osteoarthritis

Alternative treatments or home remedies that have been listed in various sources as possibly beneficial for Osteoarthritis may include:

Types of Osteoarthritis

Curable Types of Osteoarthritis

Possibly curable types of Osteoarthritis include:

Rare Types of Osteoarthritis:

Rare types of Osteoarthritis include:

Diagnostic Tests for Osteoarthritis

Test for Osteoarthritis in your own home

Click for Tests

Osteoarthritis: Complications

Review possible medical complications related to Osteoarthritis:

Causes of Osteoarthritis

More information about causes of Osteoarthritis:

Disease Topics Related To Osteoarthritis

Research the causes of these diseases that are similar to, or related to, Osteoarthritis:

Osteoarthritis: Undiagnosed Conditions

Commonly undiagnosed diseases in related medical categories:

Misdiagnosis and Osteoarthritis

Alzheimer's disease over-diagnosed: The well-known disease of Alzheimer's disease is often over-diagnosed. Patients tend to assume that any memory loss or forgetulness symptom might be Alzheimer's, more »

Dementia may be a drug interaction: A common scenario in aged care is for a patient to show mental decline to dementia. Whereas this can, of course, occur due to various medical conditions, such as a stroke or Alzheimer' more »

Tremor need not be Parkinson's disease: There is the tendency to believe that any tremor symptom, or shakiness, means Parkinson's disease. The reality is more »

Leg cramps at night a classic sign: The symptom of having leg muscle cramps, particularly at night, is a classic sign of undiagnosed diabetes. However, there are also various other causes. See more »

Rare diseases misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease: A rare genetic disorder is often misdiagnosed as Parkinson's disease for men in their 50's. The disease Fragile X disorder can show only more »

Psoriatic arthritis often undiagnosed cause of joint conditions: Patients with the skin condition psoriasis can also have the related arthritis subtype called "psoriatic arthritis". This more »

Osteoarthritis: Research Doctors & Specialists

Research related physicians and medical specialists:

Other doctor, physician and specialist research services:

Hospitals & Clinics: Osteoarthritis

Research quality ratings and patient safety measures for medical facilities in specialties related to Osteoarthritis:

Choosing the Best Hospital: More general information, not necessarily in relation to Osteoarthritis, on hospital performance and surgical care quality:

Osteoarthritis: Rare Types

Rare types of diseases and disorders in related medical categories:

Latest Treatments for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis: Animations

Prognosis for Osteoarthritis

Prognosis for Osteoarthritis: The prognosis varies from patient to patient with severity of symptoms and rate of progression varying depending on individual factors such as compliancy with management of the condition.

Research about Osteoarthritis

Visit our research pages for current research about Osteoarthritis treatments.

Clinical Trials for Osteoarthritis

The US based website lists information on both federally and privately supported clinical trials using human volunteers.

Some of the clinical trials listed on for Osteoarthritis include:

Prevention of Osteoarthritis

Prevention information for Osteoarthritis has been compiled from various data sources and may be inaccurate or incomplete. None of these methods guarantee prevention of Osteoarthritis.

Statistics for Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis: Broader Related Topics

Osteoarthritis Message Boards

Related forums and medical stories:

User Interactive Forums

Read about other experiences, ask a question about Osteoarthritis, or answer someone else's question, on our message boards:

Article Excerpts about Osteoarthritis

Do I have Arthritis: NIAMS (Excerpt)

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. This is the form that usually comes with age and most often affects the fingers, knees, and hips. Sometimes osteoarthritis follows an injury to a joint. For example, a young person might hurt his knee badly playing soccer. Then, years after the knee has apparently healed, he might get arthritis in his knee joint.

A sports injury to a knee when a person is young can lead to athritis years later.

Rheumatoid arthritis happens when the body's own defense system doesn't work properly. It affects joints, bones, and organs--often the hands and feet. You may feel sick or tired, and you may have a fever.

Other conditions can also cause arthritis. Some include:

  • Gout, in which crystals build up in the joints. It usually affects the big toe.

  • Lupus (LOOP-us), in which the body's defense system can harm the joints, the heart, the skin, the kidneys, and other organs.

  • Viral hepatitis (VY-rul HEP-ah-TY-tis), in which an infection of the liver can cause arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis can make it hard to hold a pencil or a brush.

Do I Have Arthritis?  


Pain is the way your body tells you that something is wrong. Most kinds of arthritis cause pain in your joints. You might have trouble moving around. Some kinds of arthritis can affect different parts of your body. So, along with the arthritis, you may:

  • Have a fever.

  • Lose weight.

  • Have trouble breathing.

  • Get a rash or itch.

These symptoms may also be signs of other illnesses.

Having stiffness or pain when you move could be a sign of arthritis.

What Can I Do?  


Go see a doctor. Many people use herbs or medicines that you can buy without a prescription for pain. You should tell your doctor if you do. Only a doctor can tell if you have arthritis or a related condition and what to do about it. It's important not to wait.

You'll need to tell the doctor how you feel and where you hurt. The doctor will examine you and may take x rays (pictures) of your bones or joints. The x rays don't hurt and aren't dangerous. You may also have to give a little blood for tests that will help the doctor decide if you have arthritis and what kind you have.

The x rays will tell the doctor what is happening to the bones and joints inside your body.

How Will the Doctor Help?  


After the doctor knows what kind of arthritis you have, he or she will talk with you about the best way to treat it. The doctor may give you a prescription for medicine that will help with the pain, stiffness, and inflammation. Health insurance or public assistance may help you pay for the medicine, doctor visits, tests, and x rays.

To get your medicine, take your prescription to your local drugstore or send it to your mail-order provider.

How Should I Use Arthritis Medicine?  


Before you leave the doctor's office, make sure you ask about the best way to take the medicine the doctor prescribes. For example, you may need to take some medicines with milk, or you may need to eat something just before or after taking them, to make sure they don't upset your stomach.

You should also ask how often to take the medicine or to put cream on the spots that bother you. Creams might make your skin and joints feel better. Sometimes, though, they can make your skin burn or break out in a rash. If this happens, call the doctor.

You may need to drink milk or eat when you take your medicine.

What If I Still Hurt?  


Sometimes you might still have pain after using your medicine. Here are some things to try:

  • Take a warm shower.

  • Do some gentle stretching exercises.

  • Use an ice pack on the sore area.

  • Rest the sore joint.

If you still hurt after using your medicine correctly and doing one or more of these things, call your doctor. Another kind of medicine might work better for you. Some people can also benefit from surgery, such as joint replacement. (Source: excerpt from Do I have Arthritis: NIAMS)

Handout on Health Osteoarthritis: NIAMS (Excerpt)

Osteoarthritis (AH-stee-oh-ar-THREYE-tis) is the most common type of arthritis, especially among older people. Sometimes it is called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis. (Source: excerpt from Handout on Health Osteoarthritis: NIAMS)

Questions and Answers About Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases: NIAMS (Excerpt)

Also known as degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis, affecting an estimated 20.7 million adults in the United States. Osteoarthritis primarily affects cartilage, which is the tissue that cushions the ends of bones within the joint. Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage begins to fray, wear, and decay. In extreme cases, the cartilage may wear away entirely, leaving a bone-on-bone joint. Bony spurs (pointy bulges of bone) may form at the edges of the joint. Osteoarthritis can cause joint pain, reduced joint motion, loss of function, and disability. Disability results most often when the disease affects the spine and the weight-bearing joints (the knees and hips). (Source: excerpt from Questions and Answers About Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases: NIAMS)

Arthritis Advice -- Age Page -- Health Information: NIA (Excerpt)

Osteoarthritis (OA) , at one time called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis in older people. Symptoms can range from stiffness and mild pain that comes and goes to severe joint pain and even disability. (Source: excerpt from Arthritis Advice -- Age Page -- Health Information: NIA)

Definitions of Osteoarthritis:

Noninflammatory degenerative joint disease occurring chiefly in older persons, characterised by degeneration of the articular cartilage, hypertrophy of bone at the margins and changes in the synovial membrane. It is accompanied by pain and stiffness, particularly after prolonged activity. (On-line Medical Dictionary) - (Source - Diseases Database)

Chronic breakdown of cartilage in the joints; the most common form of arthritis occurring usually after middle age - (Source - WordNet 2.1)


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