Arthritis currently affects some 46 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and those numbers are expected to rise as the population ages. With over 100 different types of arthritis, it may be hard to tell whether symptoms you’re experiencing are signs of this joint illness or of another condition altogether.
Learn about the main types of arthritis and their symptoms (see Resources). Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory type that affects the joints and organs, manifesting itself in morning stiffness, fatigue and joint pain in sets of joints such as the knees. Osteoarthritis also affects the joints and usually involves pain that worsens later in the day, in addition to swelling or warmth around the joints. Psoriatic arthritis, meanwhile, is related to psoriasis and chronic joint pain, though these symptoms tend to occur separately.
Jot down each time you experience one of the arthritic symptoms you’ve learned about. These signs can include redness and warmth around joints, pain in the joints and a small range of motion in one or more joints. Knowing where and how often you experience these symptoms can help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.
Check for other symptoms that come along with the common signs of arthritis previously mentioned. If in addition to joint pain and swelling you also experience a fever, rash, difficulty breathing or sudden weight loss, these can be telling signs that you have arthritis.
Ask your family members if anyone closely related to you (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles) has suffered from arthritis. A family history of the disease could make you more predisposed to developing arthritis, as some forms of the illness are hereditary.
Visit a doctor and be prepared to share your medical history, any symptoms you’ve experienced and any medications you are currently taking. After undergoing a physical exam that includes x-rays and some diagnostic tests, your physician should be able to tell you whether or not you have arthritis, and if so, what type.