Living With Arthritis

What is Osteoarthritis?

If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoarthritis (OA),  you’re not alone. This chronic disease affects some 27 million Americans. OA is characterized by the breakdown of cartilage – the part of a joint that cushions the ends of the bones and allows easy movement. As cartilage deteriorates, bones begin to rub against one another. This can cause stiffness and pain that make it difficult for you to use that joint. Osteoarthritis can also damage ligaments, menisci and muscles. Over time OA may create a need for joint replacements. 

There are two types of OA – primary and secondary. Primary osteoarthritis is generally associated with aging and the "wear and tear" of life. The older you are, the more likely you are to have some degree of primary osteoarthritis. However, not everyone gets it – not even the very old. That’s because OA is a disease, and not part of the normal aging process. Secondary osteoarthritis, in contrast, tends to develop relatively early in life, typically 10 or more years after a specific cause, such as an injury or obesity. 

Osteoarthritis occurs most often in knees, hips and hands.  Other joints, particularly the shoulders, can also be affected. OA rarely affects other joints, except as a result of injury or unusual physical stress.

The pain and stiffness of osteoarthritis can make it difficult to do daily activities including your job, play sports or even get around with ease. That’s why it’s important to learn all you can about this disease, how it affects you and how to live with it – a process called self management.

What is Rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a form of inflammatory arthritis and an autoimmune disease. For reasons no one fully understands, in rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system – which is designed to protect our health by attacking foreign cells such as viruses and bacteria – instead attacks the body’s own tissues, specifically the synovium, a thin membrane that lines the joints. As a result of the attack, fluid builds up in the joints, causing pain in the joints and inflammation that’s systemic – meaning it can occur throughout the body. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease, meaning it can’t be cured. Most people with RA experience intermittent bouts of intense disease activity, called flares.  In some people the disease is continuously active and gets worse over time. Others enjoy long periods of remission  – no disease activity or symptoms at all. Evidence shows that early diagnosis and aggressive treatment to put the disease into remission is the best means of avoiding joint destruction, organ damage and disability.