Arthritis simply means a painful condition of the joints. There are different types of the disease - many inflammatory and others more degenerative in nature.
How does it feel to have arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis often starts with pain in the joints of the hands, especially in the knuckles, and often both hands simultaneously.
Arthritis may be preceded or accompanied by a period of fatigue and a feeling of weakness. Pain in the joints almost always begins in the hands, especially in the knuckles, and often in both hands simultaneously, as in the case of one of the commonest types called rheumatoid arthritis.
* Because of the inflammatory reaction, the joints swell and become red, stiff and sore.
* The problem is worse in the morning than during the day.
* There can be periods of improvement which may be followed by a relapse.
Arthritis can affect all joints in the body, and it is impossible to predict which or how many joints will be attacked.
Who is at special risk
We do not know the cause of arthritis. In rheumatoid arthritis the theory that it is triggered by an infection has never been proved. It may be partly hereditary and it occurs three times as often in women as in men. All age groups can develop arthritis - even children - but usually rheumatoid arthritis appears between the ages of 30 and 35.
There is no standard treatment for arthritis. Some doctors may recommend a diet but there is no evidence that dietary changes alone can ease or stop the development of arthritis.
It is important for patients with arthritis to obtain help to keep the muscles and joints active and to be supported in leading a normal life. Physiotherapists who are trained to maintain a patient's physical ability and relieve pain, and occupational therapists who assess physical ability and provide help and advice including aids, play a large part in making life bearable for arthritis sufferers.
During recent years, there has been great progress in the treatment of arthritis particularly with the use of artificial joints. Some people still have to live with the discomfort of the disease as not all joints can be replaced surgically.