Although there are more than 100 kinds of arthritis that can affect all parts of the body, the majority of cases include just a handful of varieties. Below are the most common types of arthritis diagnosed by doctors today, including reasons why they typically occur and how they're best treated:

  • Osteoarthritis. The most common condition affecting the joints, osteoarthritis has approximately 33 million sufferers in this country. It's due mainly to wear and tear on the joints, either from overuse or excess weight. With osteoarthritis, the cartilage covering the ends of the bones where they meet erodes, leaving the bones to rub against each other. Symptoms include pain, swelling, and stiffness. If it affects the legs, walking may be difficult, and when the hands and fingers are afflicted, simple activities such as grasping and holding objects can be almost impossible. While the underlying disease is not treatable, symptoms can be kept at bay with pain-relief drugs, either oral or topical. Severe cases can necessitate surgery.
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis. Although many of the symptoms are the same, rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis in that it is an autoimmune condition. It's not known exactly why the body attacks itself, causing pain and damage to the joints, but researchers believe some sufferers are genetically inclined to develop it. It may also be caused by bacteria or viruses. Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition, it doesn't only target the joints but may attack the internal organs and cause eye problems as well. Treatment includes pain-relief drugs, steroids, specific anti-inflammatory drugs, physical therapy, and surgery.
  • Gout. Typically attacking men age 30 and older, the disease causes sudden, intense pain and swelling, usually in the big toe joint. It usually affects one joint initially, but over time can spread and hit multiple joints. Gout is caused by a high blood level of uric acid that occurs when the body breaks down purines. Purines are found in large quantities in organ meats and seafood as well as alcohol, so gout sufferers may be advised to avoid these foods. Several recent studies indicate that coffee may offer some protection against gout.
  • Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia, which affects up to 6 percent of Americans, is an arthritis-like condition involving muscle pain all over the body. It's also characterized by painfully tender points on the body that are especially sensitive to touch, and its motley symptoms can include sleep difficulties, exhaustion, depression, mental difficulties, and other problems. No one knows the exact cause of fibromyalgia, but people who have other rheumatic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus are at higher risk. Treatment is varied and can include over-the-counter pain medications, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and anti-fatigue remedies.




Arthritis Foundation,