What is Arthritis?

What is Arthritis?

Close up of persons handsArthritis is a general term to describe inflammation of the joints in the hands, lower back, neck, knee, hips, or feet. It is a relatively common condition affecting people of all ages, races, and sexes. In the United States, arthritis is the most common ailment leading to disability, affecting almost 60 million adults and 300,000 children.

The most common symptoms of arthritis are:

  • Pain and stiffness in the joints
  • Swelling of the joint areas 
  • Lack of mobility, depending on the severity of the pain

Arthritis may cause permanent, visible joint damage, leaving finger joints looking knobby and swollen. However, not all damage is evident to the eye; some changes to joints can only be seen on an X-ray.

Types of Arthritis


Arthritis is a broad term used to describe many joint conditions. The four most common types of arthritis are rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, gout, and osteoarthritis. 

  • Rheumatoid arthritis: A chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own tissues, possibly leading to damage to joints and other organs such as the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels
  • Psoriatic arthritis: Unlike other forms of arthritis, psoriatic arthritis is not caused by overuse of your joints or aging. It is triggered by an overactive immune condition affecting joints and skin. The actual cause is not yet known. However, an increase in immune system proteins is believed to cause painful inflammation and scaly skin thickening.
  • Gout: Gout is an arthritic condition that is brought about by a buildup of uric acid crystals in joints, usually affecting the big toe. Gout is aggravated by drinking beer or other alcohol and consuming foods containing high-fructose corn syrup, red meats, or seafood. Certain medications, such as diuretics, can also bring on a gout attack. 
  • Osteoarthritis: The most prominent type of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects about one-third of the population. Osteoarthritis is usually caused by constant wear and tear on joints, specifically the knee, hips, spine, and fingers. Many medications are available to help treat swelling and pain from osteoarthritis.

Signs & Symptoms of Arthritis


Rheumatoid arthritis begins by affecting the smaller joints in your body, specifically in your fingers and toes. It is characterized by:

  • Tender, swollen joints that feel stiff, especially in the morning
  • Loss of appetite, fever, or fatigue (for some people)

Medication that suppresses inflammation and immune response can help keep damage to a minimum.

Psoriatic arthritis affects some people who already have psoriasis of the skin—a red, scaly-type skin disorder marked by areas of painful swollen patches. Someone could have psoriasis for many years before developing psoriatic arthritis. Yet a small number of people develop joint pain before the symptoms of psoriasis appear. 

The main symptoms of psoriatic arthritis are:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling 
  • Stiffness 

Though there is no cure for psoriatic arthritis, treatment is available to control the disease flare-ups. As with psoriasis, psoriatic arthritis may go through periods of remission. If left untreated, however, psoriatic arthritis can become debilitating.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of degenerative joint disease, usually affecting older people or after joint injuries. Osteoarthritis is characterized by pain with joint use. Body parts most affected by osteoarthritis include the hands, lower back, neck, knees, hips, and feet. Osteoarthritis in the hands affects women more than men and may be inherited.

The most common symptoms for most forms of arthritis include:

  • Joint stiffness
  • Swollen joints
  • Pain 

What Causes Arthritis?


In cases where the underlying cause is associated with an autoimmune disease, your doctor may require additional tests for diagnosis. Other common causes for arthritis include a family history of this condition, repeated activities that cause joint stress, or occasionally a viral infection.

Arthritis Risk Factors

Risk Factors

Common risk factors that place a person at higher risk for developing arthritis include:

  • Family history, especially if a parent or grandparent was affected
  • Age, as some arthritis is more likely to affect older people over 65
  • Gender, since women are at a higher risk for acquiring arthritis
  • Previous injury
  • Weight, as excess weight puts more stress on the joints



Preventing arthritis is not guaranteed; however, following commonsense advice can help you avoid or minimize the effects of arthritis. 

  • Maintain a healthy weight to avoid excess pressure on your joints
  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise
  • Watch your blood sugar
  • Avoid injury or excessive use of a particular joint, if possible
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Arthritis Care

Relief is just an appointment away. The orthopedic physicians, rheumatologists, and physical and rehabilitation team at NewYork-Presbyterian are unsurpassed in their knowledge and experience in treating all types of arthritis.

Rheumatologists care for all or most patients with inflammatory arthritis. Patients may only see an orthopedist if their joints fail to respond to treatment and deteriorate to the point of needing a replacement or repair.

Both orthopedists and rheumatologists care for patients with degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis). Many of these patients may need knee, hip, or joint replacement, which an orthopedic surgeon can do.

Physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists work to enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life in arthritis patients.

Together, the specialists at NewYork-Presbyterian ensure that patients have access to the best care team, to ensure a smooth recovery.