The Many Faces of Arthritis

While osteoarthritis is what most people think of when they hear the word "arthritis," it is far from the only condition that falls under that umbrella term.

The term "arthritis" actually encompasses more than 100 diseases and conditions that affect joints, the surrounding tissues and other connective tissues. Arthritis can cause mild to severe pain in the joints, as well as joint tenderness and swelling. Approximately 46 million Americans have some type of arthritis or related condition.

The various forms of arthritis and related conditions can affect anyone, no matter what your race, gender or age. However, it is especially important for women to be educated about these diseases since they affect women at a much higher rate than men. Sixty percent of all people who have arthritis are female, and several of the more common forms are more prevalent in women.

Osteoarthritis, also known as degenerative joint disease or OA, is the most common form of arthritis. Of the nearly 27 million Americans who have osteoarthritis approximately 16 million are women. Women usually develop OA after age 40. It causes damage to cartilage and bones, causing joint pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function.

Fibromyalgia is a syndrome characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain. It is associated with generalized muscular pain and fatigue, loss of sleep, stiffness and sometimes depression and/or anxiety. Fibromyalgia is a form of soft tissue or muscular rheumatism, which means no joint deformity occurs. An estimated 3.7 million Americans have fibromyalgia; the figure may actually be higher since some of its symptoms may be found in other conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome (which is also more common in women).

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) usually strikes women between the ages of 25 to 50, but can occur in children. RA is a systemic disease that can affect the entire body. An abnormality in the body's immune system causes it to work improperly, leading to inflammation in the lining of the joints and other internal organs. Chronic inflammation can lead to deterioration, pain and limited movement. Approximately 1.3 million American adults have RA, with women outnumbering men 2.5-to-1.

Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) is an inflammatory disease that may affect the joints, skin, kidneys and other parts of the body. Almost 240,000 Americans -- 90 percent of whom are women -- have this arthritis-related condition. It usually affects women of childbearing age and is more common among African American women than Caucasian women. Some studies indicate that it may also be more common among Asian and Latino populations.

Many other arthritis-related conditions and connective tissue disorders also affect more women than men. Raynaud's phenomenon, scleroderma, Sjögren's syndrome, spondyloarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, scleroderma, bursitis, tendonitis, myofascial pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, polymyalgia rheumatica, dermatomyositis, and Reiter's Syndrome are other conditions that may not be as prevalent as others described above, but are still health problems that should be treated in conjunction with an experienced health-care team.

Also, certain types of infection (such as Lyme disease and syphilis) are known to cause a persistent arthritis. Successful treatment of the infection itself does not always eliminate the residual arthritis, which can mimic OA, RA, or a mixed form.

The above information was provided by the Arthritis Foundation at