If you have pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints—and sometimes struggle to move—you’re not alone: more than 54 million Americans have arthritis.1 Many older people have osteoarthritis, the most common type, a “wear-and-tear” of joint cartilage over years.
But did you know there are over 100 different types of arthritis causing joint pain for patients of all ages? In rheumatoid arthritis, for example, the immune system attacks the joints as well as other areas of the body in both adults and children.
“Because of all the arthritis variations and types, the treatments that are most likely to improve symptoms can differ dramatically,” says Karen Leitner, MD, senior physician case manager at Teladoc Health.
So how do you begin to consider all your options when you’re feeling scared and overwhelmed? There’s no reason to panic: Arthritis is a manageable disease once it’s diagnosed and treated properly. Read on for more information about aching joints and how a specialist in Teladoc’s pool of 50,000 medical experts can give a second opinion on your condition. It’s important to make informed decisions so you can find the best treatment for you.
What arthritis feels like
When bodily aches and pains continue for weeks on end, interfering with daily activities, it’s time to talk to a physician about your symptoms. People with arthritis commonly feel:2
- stiff, especially in the morning when waking up or after sitting for a long time. Others feel stiffness after movement like exercise.
- swollen around the joints, which take on a red, warm, and puffy condition due to inflammation.
- pain and discomfort, which may come and go or be more persistent and long-lasting.
These symptoms can be found in all different body locations—keep track of when they bother you, after what activities, and where specifically they’re appearing. Areas of inflammation may be on different sides of the body or in various joints; most common affected areas are fingers, hands, wrists, knees, hips, shoulders, ankles, and lower back.
Why the right diagnosis matters
Osteoarthritis, or “wear and tear” on the joints, is most commonly found in people older than 70, those with close family members who also have osteoarthritis, people who are overweight, and those who have performed certain demanding physical movements while at work or playing sports throughout their lifetimes. This results in cartilage breakdown and sometimes “bone on bone” pain. Another type is inflammatory, which includes rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
“There are different subtypes and categories of arthritis, and it’s even possible to have more than one subtype at a time,” explains Dr. Leitner. These varieties include joint infections, gout, reactive arthritis, septic arthritis, and juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Depending on the type or subtype, you can also experience symptoms not specific to the joints like fatigue, rash, fever, itchy skin, hair loss, or changes to fingernails or toenails.
“Because of all the variations and subtypes, the treatment that is best and most likely to improve symptoms can differ dramatically. Osteoarthritis, for example, is best treated with analgesic or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or when more severe, steroid injections or even joint replacement surgery,” Dr. Leitner explains. “On the other hand, inflammatory arthritis treatment is non-surgical and consists of disease-modifying drugs and biologics, among other things.”
If your case isn’t quite straightforward—or you’re already being treated but aren’t responding well—it’s important to make sure you have the right diagnosis. “An expert second opinion is a convenient way to do that,” Dr. Leitner assures. “By having a summary of your medical history and imaging and lab results reviewed by an expert in the field, you can feel certainty that the correct diagnosis has been made, and that the treatment being offered is appropriate and meets the standard of care. It’s also a good way to have questions answered about novel or developing therapies and even clinical trials.”
Where to get the help you need
Arthritis can lead to daily discomfort or even severe pain and disability. This doesn’t have to be your new normal. A combination of doctor-recommended treatment and self-management will help you live a healthier, more productive lifestyle.
While primary care physicians are usually a patient’s first stop, rheumatologists, orthopedists, or occasionally other doctors who specialize in treating arthritis can help decode your joint inflammation. Confirming or getting the correct diagnosis is the first step on the path to symptom relief. Simply sign in or register now for an expert medical opinion so a specialist can review your case and weigh in on the best care plan to help you thrive.
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