Arthritis is a general term that refers to many rheumatic diseases that can cause pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints and other connective tissues. These diseases can affect supporting structures such as muscles, tendons, and ligaments and may also affect other parts of the body. Arthritis has afflicted men and women for centuries. It is only in the last 50 years that the disease has come to be understood as a group of over 100 arthritis-related conditions.
Basically, arthritis is a pain or swelling in a joint, caused by some toxin or injury. Arthritis is a symptomatic feature of many types of related diseases. Chronic arthritis does not go away, unlike a temporary inflammation caused by a localized infection of a joint. Usually the cause is not curable and treatment aims at reducing pain and discomfort and preventing further disability.
There are three basic categories of arthritis: (1) Degenerative (wear-and-tear, osteoarthritis) (2) Post-traumatic (following injury or accident) (3) Inflammatory (e.g. rheumatoid, lupus, psoriatic, etc.).
The incidence of rheumatoid arthritis increases with age. Women are affected more frequently than men. It is a remittent disease, but each exacerbation adds to the degree of irreversible damage in the joints, so that the prevalence of the arthritis and the resulting crippling disability rises rather steeply with age. Perhaps the most fundamental difficulty with regard to rheumatic diseases today is that the problem is insufficiently appreciated and understood.
Diet may affect certain joint disorders, but its role is strongest only in rare situations. For example: diets high in purines, a form of protein found in sardines, liver and other organ meats, may worsen gout; alcohol intake, if a major part of the diet, plays a stronger role. Patients with celiac disease, a rare condition in which there is an autoimmune reaction to gluten in the diet, occasionally have arthritis as part of their illness. Removal of gluten from the diet can reverse this condition as long as the restrictive diet is followed. However, for the more common forms of arthritis and joint pain (including degenerative arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, tendinitis and bursitis), there is no clear connection to diet. Efforts to remove certain types of food or to add others in an attempt to treat arthritis have met with inconclusive or disappointing results. Recent research has identified an association between low vitamin D intake and degenerative arthritis, but it is not known whether extra vitamin D intake will prevent or treat degenerative joint disease. In the absence of a particular vitamin deficiency, no clear benefit from supplemental vitamins or nutrients has been established. Weight reduction may help to prevent or treat gout or degenerative arthritis.
Arthritis is common (one in seven individuals suffer from arthritis) and is not limited to the very old (36% are under 40 years of age, 79% are under 60). Arthritis can occur in males and females of all ages. Nearly 43 million people in the USA have arthritis. Millions of dollars are spent on research each year.