Aging & Health A to Z
Basic Facts & Information
Do you wake up in the morning with stiff joints?
Does it take you longer to get out of bed than it used to?
Are your knees, hands, hips, neck or lower back aching more than before?
Have you noticed that some of the joints in your hands and feet have become swollen?
Is it getting harder just to move?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be developing arthritis, the most common joint problem in older people.
What is Arthritis?
The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, occurs in older people because it is usually the result of long years of wear and tear on your body—most likely from normal physical activity or from past injuries. Eventually, all that history starts to take its toll, especially on your joints, the places where two or more bones meet. In fact, the word “arthritis” means “inflamed joint.”
Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States. Surveys have shown that millions of adults are limited by arthritis in their ability to walk, climb stairs, bend, or kneel, or participate in regular social activities such as going to church or visiting with family and friends. For those still working, arthritis can make the daily routine more and more challenging.
The Most Common Types of Arthritis
There are several types of arthritis. The ones that occur most often are:
The most common type of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only your joints, usually the hands, knees, hips, and spine, though any injured joint can develop osteoarthritis.
The second most common form of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects many other joints, including your wrists, elbow, shoulders, and ankles. It is caused by an abnormality in your immune system that causes it to attack your own body. Other body tissues, including muscles, blood vessels, heart, lungs, nerves and skin may also be targeted. Most cases appear before the age of 60 but some appear after. Rheumatoid arthritis is often a life-long, progressive disease.
Gout is a type of arthritis that usually only affects one or a few joints (usually the big toe and ankle). It is caused by the build-up of uric acid crystals within the joint where it causes intense pain, swelling, warmth, and redness.
This type of arthritis occurs when an infection spreads into a joint.
How Common is Arthritis?
Approximately 50 million adults have been diagnosed with some kind of arthritis in the United States, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, and fibromyalgia. In fact, about half of Americans over the age of 65 years have been told they have arthritis by their healthcare provider.
Women are slightly more likely to get a diagnosis of arthritis than men, although gout is more common in men. Also, if you are overweight or obese, your chance of developing arthritis increases.
Updated: November 2016
Posted: March 2012