Arthritis is an umbrella term for a group of more than 100 inflammatory conditions that affect the joints.  Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common types, but there are many other forms. Diagnosing arthritis can involve blood tests, X-rays, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), along with tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. Treatment is different depending on the cause, but the goal is always to relieve pain and inflammation while maintaining function.

Key Terms

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes arthritis?

    Arthritis has four main causes.

    • Degenerative (osteoarthritis): Age, overuse, or injury destroy the cartilage cushioning the joint.
    • Inflammatory (RA, psoriatic arthritis): Autoimmunity causes damage and inflammation. 
    • Metabolic (gout): Uric acid build up causes symptoms.
    • Infectious (acute arthritis): Bacteria or a virus infect the joint or joint fluid.
  • What is rheumatoid arthritis?

    Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory, autoimmune disease in which the immune system misfires and tries to destroy the lining of your joints (the synovium). In some cases, it has systemic effects and may target the eyes, heart, lungs, or other tissues. RA is a progressive disease that can lead to pain, loss of mobility, and joint deformity.

  • What is psoriatic arthritis?

    Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic, inflammatory, immune-mediated disease involving joint pain and skin lesions. A misfiring immune system damages skin cells called keratinocytes and the resulting inflammation can spread to the joints, nails, eyes, brain, and kidneys. Sausage-like swelling in the fingers and toes, nail deformity, and persistent fatigue are also common symptoms.

  • What does arthritis feel like?

    While symptoms vary from one type to another, most forms of arthritis share a group of symptoms, especially in the early stages. These include:

    • Joint pain, stiffness, and inflammation
    • Limited range of motion in affected joints
    • Redness and warmth around sore joints
    • Nodules and nodes
    • Systemic symptoms such as fatigue, fever, and malaise
  • How can I prevent arthritis?

    You may be able to lower your risk of developing some types of arthritis through lifestyle modifications, such as:

    • Losing weight
    • Getting regular, moderate exercise
    • Protecting your joints during contact or high-impact sports
    • Not smoking or using tobacco
    • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
  • How is arthritis diagnosed?

    If your doctor suspects arthritis, they’ll likely examine your painful joints; order blood tests to check for inflammation, autoimmunity, or other potential markers; and send you for imaging studies, such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), that can reveal damage to your joints and bones. They may also take steps to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.

  • Does cracking your knuckles cause arthritis?

    No, you can not give yourself arthritis by cracking your knuckles, no matter what your mother may have told you. The cracking sound you hear is just dissolved gasses quickly being released from the capsule that cushions your joint. That release is necessary for the capsule to expand properly when under pressure. Even so, too much cracking can damage the connective tissues surrounding the joint.

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  1. MedlinePlus. Gout. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US).