Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a disease of the joints. Also know as degenerative joint disease, it is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 20 million American adults. It is a separate condition from and should not be confused with rheumatoid arthritis, another painful inflammatory condition. Osteoarthritis is caused by cartilage breakdown; cartilage provides a cushion between the bones of the joints. Healthy cartilage allows bones to glide over one another and acts as a shock absorber during physical movement. In osteoarthritis, the cartilage breaks down and wears away. This causes the bones under the cartilage to rub together, causing pain, swelling, and loss of joint motion.

What Causes Osteoarthritis?
Most cases of osteoarthritis have no known cause. Risk factors include:

  • Age – osteoarthritis affects more people over the age of 45
  • Female – osteoarthritis is more common in women than in men
  • Certain hereditary conditions such as defective cartilage and joint deformity
  • Joint injuries caused by sports, work-related activity, or accidents
  • Obesity

Signs and Symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis usually begins slowly. Early in the disease, joints may ache after physical work or exercise. Often the pain of early osteoarthritis fades and then returns over time, especially if the affected joint is overused. Other symptoms may include:

  • Swelling or tenderness in one or more joints, especially before or during a change in the weather
  • Loss of flexibility of a joint
  • Stiffness after getting out of bed
  • A crunching feeling or sound of bone rubbing on bone
  • Bony lumps on the joints of the fingers or the base of the thumb
  • Steady or intermittent pain in a joint (although not everyone with osteoarthritis has pain)

One of the most important things you can do is to take care of yourself and adopt healthy lifestyle habits. People with osteoarthritis can enjoy good health despite having this disease. Research shows that patients who take part in their own care report less pain and make fewer doctor visits. They also enjoy a better quality of life. The best way to start is what you are doing right now – learning as much as you can about osteoarthritis. Talk to your doctor about programs that you can join that are designed to help you manage your condition and develop a healthy lifestyle.