Arthritis Is Not a Single Disease
You have been diagnosed with arthritis, but the diagnostic process does not stop there. Your doctor will also need to determine what type of arthritis you have. It's important to know the specific type of arthritis because each type has different treatment options.
Some types of arthritis are divided further into subtypes. Using juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) as an example, JRA is one of more than 100 types of arthritis. There isn't only one type of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, however; there are six recognized types.
The American College of Rheumatology offers criteria for the classification of the different types of arthritis. Also, the pattern of affected joints can help differentiate between these three types of arthritis:
Monoarthritis — arthritis in a single joint
Polyarthritis — arthritis in many joints
Oligoarthritis — arthritis in a few joints (no more than six)
Joint symptoms can occur alone or in combination with other symptoms. Characteristic patterns of joint symptoms can distinguish between inflammatory and noninflammatory types of arthritis. Characteristically, inflammatory types of arthritis produce joint pain and joint stiffness following a period of rest. Noninflammatory types of arthritis exhibit symptoms provoked by movement and weight bearing activity, which calm after a period of rest.
Joint symptoms associated with inflammatory types of arthritis often occur in a symmetrical pattern (for example, both knees), while joint symptoms associated with noninflammatory types of arthritis are typically nonsymmetrical (for example, one knee).
Not only are there more than 100 types of arthritis, an individual patient can have more than one type of arthritis simultaneously. For example, a rheumatoid arthritis patient can also have osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, or gout.
Other symptoms that accompany joint symptoms can provide more clues, leading to a specific diagnosis. If any of the following symptoms accompany joint symptoms, it may serve as combined, useful diagnostic evidence:
Severe or persistent fatigue
Mouth or nose ulcers
Hands or feet that change colors with cold weather (e.g. white followed by blue discoloration)
Dry eyes or mouth
Skin abnormalities or nodules
Other comorbid conditions (two or more conditions that occur together)
Saying that you have arthritis is a very general statement. Media advertisements for a medication to treat “minor arthritis pain” are irrelevant. Such generalities and vague statements have little value and detract from the reality of arthritis, which is that there are many types of arthritis and a patient is not always quickly or easily diagnosed. Proper treatment can even be delayed, because diagnosing arthritis is a process, and can sometimes be a very long one.
Misconceptions and misunderstandings about arthritis also detract from the reality of arthritis. Learning about your disease will help you educate and enlighten others about arthritis. People who don't understand the disease make the plight of people living with arthritis worse. Promoting more awareness about arthritis is essential.