What Kind of Arthritis Do I Have

At the age of 68, I have been having more and more general aches and pains in my hands, knees and feet. I have a friend in my book group who has rheumatoid arthritis and is on some very high-powered, challenging treatment. I think I just have the old-fashioned “I’m just worn out” kind of arthritis, but don’t know. How do I find out if I have arthritis and what kind it might be?

Not all arthritis is created equal. As you noted, the “I’m worn out” condition, known as osteoarthritis, is the result of wear and tear, while rheumatoid arthritis is an immunological problem in which the body attacks its own joints. Both lead to joint pain but present themselves quite differently. Only about 1 percent of the U.S. population is diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, while osteoarthritis is a common malady as we age. Osteoarthritis generally gets worse with activity, and pain remits with rest. The rheumatoid type, though, is an inflammatory condition, and exercise such as walking will typically make a person feel better. You are right that rheumatoid arthritis generally requires more aggressive treatment, including the new biologic medications and prescribed exercise. The bottom line is this: If you have joint pain for more than six to eight weeks, schedule an appointment with your physician for an assessment. It is likely that nothing serious is occurring, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Want to learn more about living with arthritis? Read “Arthritis Types and Treatments” and “Making Everyday Activities With Arthritis Easier.”

Our expert: Jackson Rainer is a board-certified clinical psychologist who practices with the Care and Counseling Center in Decatur, Georgia, helping people living with chronic illnesses.

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