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    Texas Arthritis Program
    MC 1945
    PO Box 149347 Austin, TX 78714-9347
    1100 West 49th Street
    Austin, TX 78756


    Texas Arthritis Program

What is Arthritis?

Woman Walks in Physical Therapy
Photo courtesy of the Arthritis Foundation


Although the word arthritis means joint inflammation, the term arthritis is used in public health to describe more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, the tissues which surround the joint and other connective tissue. The pattern, severity and location of symptoms vary depending on the specific form of the disease. Typically, rheumatic conditions are characterized by pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints. The symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Certain rheumatic conditions can also involve the immune system and various internal organs of the body.


arrow Definitions of Common Forms of Arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis, also known as “degenerative joint disease,” is the nation’s number one crippling disease, affecting an estimated 26.9 million Americans. Osteoarthritis most often affects the hip, knee, foot, and hand, but can affect other joints as well. Degeneration of joint cartilage and changes in underlying bone and supporting tissues lead to pain, stiffness, movement problems, and activity limitations.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis afflicts approximately 1.5 million Americans and is characterized by chronic inflammation of the joint lining. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, and swelling of multiple joints. The inflammation may extend to other joint tissues and cause bone and cartilage erosion, joint deformities, movement problems, and activity limitations. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can also affect connective tissue and blood vessels throughout the body, triggering inflammation in a variety of organs, including the lungs and heart. In severe cases, RA can lead to death from respiratory and infectious diseases.

  • Fibromyalgia literally means “pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons.” Fibromyalgia pain syndrome involves muscle and muscle attachment areas. Common symptoms include widespread pain throughout the muscles of the body, sleep disorders, fatigue, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome. This disease affects about five million Americans.

  • Childhood Arthritis: The most common form of childhood arthritis is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA), the term and classification system used most commonly in the United States. JRA involves at least 6 weeks of persistent arthritis in a child younger than 16 years with no other type of childhood arthritis. JRA has three distinct subtypes: systemic (10%), polyarticular (40%) and pauciarticular (50%). Each type has a unique presentation and clinical course and immunogenetic association. For the latter two types, girls are more commonly affected (3–5:1). In all three types about 40–45% still have active disease after 10 years. For the systemic type, the peak age of onset is 1– to 6–years-old and about 50% of cases show very short stature in adulthood as a result. For the pauciarticular form, there are two distinct subtypes- early onset and late onset. Early onset is more common in girls, late onset is more common in boys. The genetics differ as do the clinical courses. In the polyarticular form, there are also two subtypes: rheumatoid factor (RF) positive and negative. RF positive usually affect girls with onset after 8 years of age and a poorer prognosis compared with RF negative children.

Certain factors have been shown to be associated with a greater risk of arthritis. Some of these risk factors are modifiable while others are not.

arrow Nonmodifiable Risk Factors
The risk of developing most types of arthritis increases with age.
Most types of arthritis are more common in women; 60% of all people with arthritis are women. Gout is more common in men.
Specific genes are associated with a higher risk of certain types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematous (SLE), and ankylosing spondylitis.
arrow Modifiable Risk Factors
Overweight and Obesity

        Excess weight can contribute to both the onset and progression of knee osteoarthritis.

Joint Injuries

        Damage to a joint can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis in that joint.


        Many microbial agents can infect joints and potentially cause the development of various forms of arthritis.


        Certain occupations involving repetitive knee bending and squatting are associated with osteoarthritis of the knee.

arrow Learn More About Arthritis

The links below lead to nationally recognized web sites containing comprehensive information about arthritis. External links to other sites are intended to be informational and do not have the endorsement of the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Arthritis Foundation
American College of Rheumatology - Patient Education
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases - Questions and Answers About Arthritis and Rheumatic Diseases

arrow State Resources
Click here for information about organizations in Texas providing information and services to persons with arthritis.


Last updated February 19, 2013