Arthritis is a general term used to describe joint disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis affects around 21 million Americans. Contrary to popular thought, arthritis is not a natural part of aging. There are many types of arthritis, but two of the most common are rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis affects almost 1 percent of the adult population in the United States, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes swelling, stiffness or tiredness. According to Medline Plus, the onset of rheumatoid arthritis often occurs between the ages of 25 and 55. The disease is also more common in women than in men. Approximately 75 percent of those diagnosed are female, according to the American College of Rheumatology.

The disease can damage your heart, muscles, blood vessels, nervous system and eyes. Pain is often symmetrical, so if you experience joint stiffness in one knee, you will likely have pain in the other. In addition to pain and stiffness, other symptoms include loss of appetite and rheumatoid nodules under the skin. Rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and feelings of helplessness. Symptoms may invade all aspects of your life, including your ability to work, participate in hobbies or carry out family-related responsibilities.

The duration of rheumatoid arthritis varies. Some people only experience pain for a few months or a year before the symptoms dissolve. For others, the symptoms may intensify or improve intermittently. Rheumatoid arthritis has no known cause, but it may be influenced by hereditary and environmental factors. Smoking boosts your risk of getting rheumatoid arthritis.

Doctors cannot run a single test to determine that the pain you are experiencing is in fact rheumatoid arthritis, and symptoms parallel other joint diseases and conditions, so diagnosis can be tricky. Early diagnosis and treatment are important, as joint damage is irreversible and will worsen over time.

Also referred to as degenerative joint disease or degenerative arthritis, osteoarthritis affects about 20 million Americans. According to the CDC, 80 percent of people with osteoarthritis experience some degree of movement limitation. Osteoarthritis occurs with the wearing away of cartilage, which aids in joint movement. As a result, your bones start to rub against each other. This leads to pain, stiffness and swelling. Osteoarthritis is most common in the hands, neck, lower back, knee and hips. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, it does not contribute to illness or affect the organs.

Osteoarthritis can cause severe to mild pain. Obesity, injury, overuse and muscle weakness, along with aging, all increase your chance of getting osteoarthritis. As with rheumatoid arthritis, there is no all-inclusive test to diagnose osteoarthritis. Doctors may use a combination of physical exams, medical history, X-rays and blood tests.

Neither rheumatoid arthritis nor osteoarthritis can be cured. In both instances, treatment focuses on preserving or improving your quality of life. You should focus on a long-term management program, and there is a possibility that you will experience remission.

Movement, despite the initial pain, is one of the most important ways to combat the effects of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Moderate physical activity helps strengthen your body and ward off fatigue, but make sure you exercise correctly. Participate in low-impact exercise like swimming and biking, and be mindful to warm up and stretch beforehand. Physical therapy may be another option to increase joint function and flexibility.

If you are overweight, losing a few pounds or maintaining a healthy weight are important components of prevention and treatment. Massage can reduce stiffness and ease pain and spasms relating to arthritis. Some have found acupuncture helpful.

It is also crucial to focus on using your joints correctly. Splints and braces can keep them in place and reduce the stress you put on them. Using a cane or walker can make motion less painful. Wearing the right kind of shoes can provide proper support.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and Aleve can be used to manage swelling. Analgesics, like Tylenol, can be taken to treat the pain. Joint replacement surgeries, like hip or knee replacements, may be an option for severe cases.