Inflammatory Arthritis

Inflammatory arthritis is the name used to describe a group of diseases caused by an overactive immune system. Many forms of these diseases result in inflammation of the joints generally felt as joint pain and stiffness. Inflammatory arthritis can also affect connective tissues, including the eyes, lungs, heart, skin, and other organs. If inflammation affects any part of the body, it may result in severe, irreversible damage.

Inflammation, typically, is a reaction to an irritant, causing redness, swelling, and pain.

In any usual situation, the body tends to respond to infection or the presence of foreign substances, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungus by producing special cells or lymphocytes that kill harmful invaders. Inflammation is a process that occurs when the body is in the process of developing those special cells with complex proteins, such as cytokines and other chemical messengers. The term ‘inflammation’ comes from the Latin word ‘inflammare’, which means ‘to set on fire’.

Signs and Symptoms of Inflammation

Some of the common signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Heat
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Altered function of the affected areas

Different Types of Inflammatory Arthritis

The most common type of inflammatory arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis. It is estimated to affect approximately 0.24 to 1 percent of the population and to be twice as common in women compared with men.

It is caused when the body’s defences – the immune system – target joint linings. The condition affects joints on both sides of the body, such as both knees, both wrists, or both hands. The symmetry helps to distinguish it from the other kinds of arthritis.

Left untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can result in joint destruction, leading to functional disabilities and high risk of the following:

  • Inability to work
  • Psychosocial dysfunctions
  • Comorbid conditions like cardiovascular diseases
  • Reduced life expectancy

Other types of inflammatory arthritis include:

  • Psoriatic arthritis, the clues to which include scaly spots on the skin along with swelling in some or all the joints. The condition may also be identified with back stiffness, and at times, swelling of fingers or toe, resulting in a sausage-like appearance.
  • Gout and pseudogout, in which needle-like crystals of uric acid or rhomboid-shaped crystals of calcium pyrophosphate, respectively, form in cartilage and are released into the joint fluid, producing painful effects. Gout is most common in the metatarsophalangeal joint or the first toe, where it meets the foot but may also be common in other joints, such as the midfoot, ankles, knees, and bursa of the elbow. Pseudogout is more common in the elders and generally involves the ankles, wrists, knees, and shoulders.
  • Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and related conditions affect the spine and peripheral joints. These conditions can be identified with severe morning stiffness in the spine.
  • Parvovirus arthritis is a contagious, viral form of arthritis that may cause flu-like symptoms and rashes. Children suffering from the fifth disease (Erythema infectiosum) due to parvovirus will have a classic slapped-cheek appearance of rashes. Although parvovirus arthritis resolves within a few weeks, some patients may keep experiencing ongoing symptoms.
  • Lyme disease is caused by a spirochete (bacteria) contracted via the bite of an infected deer tick. The condition typically reveals IA symptoms in later stages but in some cases may include early symptoms such as rashes, chills, fever, fatigue, headache, and an aching neck. Although blood testing is useful once arthritis develops, it may be falsely negative if tested fairly early in Lyme disease.
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or lupus is an inflammatory condition that usually involves all systems of the human body. Arthritis is one of the single most common ways for lupus to present, and lupus arthritis appears similar to the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis. Some of the common signs of lupus include sun-sensitive skin rashes, mouth sores, rapid hair loss, chest pain with a deep breath, and a positive ANA blood test.

Diagnosis of Autoimmune Arthritis

A doctor usually asks the patient about their symptoms, including what worsens them and what, if anything, improves the discomfort. They also ask about other medical conditions the individual is suffering from and what medicines they’re taking.

A doctor is likely to recommend a range of tests to know more about a patient’s health and find out which joints are affected. Examples of diagnostic tests for autoimmune arthritis may include:

  • Imaging scans, such as CT scans, x-rays, or MRIs help identify areas of joint damage
  • Blood testing, including rheumatoid factor, red blood cell count, antibodies to certain peptide types, and erythrocyte sedimentation rates
  • Tissue samples are also used to confirm conditions like psoriasis.

There is no single test that can definitively diagnose an autoimmune arthritis type. Often, diagnosis involves the patient undergoing several tests to rule out the possibility of other conditions and other kinds of arthritis.

Treatment of Autoimmune Arthritis

Some individuals with mild forms of autoimmune arthritis can benefit from nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications.

Conventional disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are a class of medications also used to treat inflammatory types of arthritis, such as psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis. Conventional DMARDs are only used to treat inflammatory arthritis; they are not used to manage osteoarthritis. DMARDs work well in most cases; although, they may take six to 12 weeks to start having an effect.

Shutting down the inflammatory process that causes inflammatory arthritis can take long but healthy joints are worth the wait.

If DMARDs are not as effective in treating autoimmune arthritis, doctors may prescribe biologic agents or response modifiers known as biologic agents. These medications block immune system communications which could lead to autoimmune arthritis.

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