Written by Serena Berger
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Arthritis is not a single specific disease. The term refers to any of a number of conditions which result in joint pain, inflammation, stiffness, or damage to the joints. Actually, the musculoskeletal system can be affected by these conditions in a number of ways, and the symptoms will not necessarily be limited to joints and bones. In systemic forms of arthritis the heart, lungs, kidneys and blood vessels may also be damaged.

Over 70 million people (that's one in three) in America suffer from some form of arthritis, and many of them are chronically disabled from their condition. Pain may be so severe that a sufferer cannot climb stairs or use a computer. Joint stiffness may become so serious that a patient cannot use a knife and fork, or even walk at all. While many forms of arthritis emerge as people age and then worsen with time, there are children and young people who have arthritic conditions, as well.

Common Types of Arthritis

The most common forms of arthritis are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia. OA (osteoarthritis) is characterized by the breakdown of the joints' cartilage, which causes bones to rub against each other, causing pain and loss of movement. RA (rheumatoid arthritis) is a chronic systemic inflammatory disease which results in pain, stiffness, and swelling of joints. FMS (fibromyalgia syndrome) is a musculoskeletal condition which results in pain and fatigue--often sufferers ache all over, all the time. As there are over 100 types of arthritis, symptoms can vary greatly, but these most common types account for the vast majority of cases.

Only a doctor can accurately diagnose arthritis. Blood tests and x-rays are usually ordered by a doctor if your symptoms include pain, stiffness, or swelling around a joint that lasts more than two weeks. If you have mild forms of these symptoms and they seem to include sleeplessness, fatigue, or depression, you want to tell your doctor. This may be an early warning which will enable you to manage the condition better. People find varying degrees of success with different combinations of medication, exercise, rest, weight-management, and changing their diets. In extreme cases surgery may be the best solution, though post-surgery you will then be asked to enter into a regimen of medication and exercise, as well as pain medication if necessary.

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