Arthritis is a rheumatological disease that causes pain, inflammation and destruction of the joints. Rheumatological diseases including arthritis, gout and lupus are leading causes of pain and disability worldwide. There are two forms of arthritis—osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that occurs most often in the hip, knee and spine. It affects more women than men and incidence increases with age. OA is the most common form of arthritis and affects about 20 million people in the United States.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease—a condition in which the immune defenses malfunction and damage the body’s own tissues. RA, which affects about 1.5 million in the U.S., begins with joint stiffness and pain and as RA progresses it can become seriously disfiguring and disabling. RA patients may be at risk for other conditions including cardiovascular, kidney and eye diseases. Patients with RA have a decreased life expectancy due to infections, cancer (especially lymphoma), and vascular disease.
There is no cure for either form of arthritis. To treat OA, physicians use various medications to reduce inflammation and control pain. Clinical research has provided more help for rheumatoid arthritis. New arthritis medicines called DMARDs (drug modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) now can slow progression of RA and help prevent joint damage.