Arthritis is a chronic disease which occurs in about 100 different forms and affects about four million Canadians today. When a person has arthritis, joints and surrounding tissues, such as muscles or tendons, often become inflamed. Inflammation is the body’s reaction to illness or injury, which can cause pain, swelling, redness or heat in certain areas, such as a joint.
Arthritis and related diseases are also known as rheumatic diseases. This term describes diseases of the joints, muscles and connective tissues, each having different causes. There are some very serious forms of arthritis that are called autoimmune diseases. In these diseases, the body’s immune system, its network of defenses, malfunctions and the disease-fighting components mistakenly turn against the body itself, causing damage to joints, cartilage, skin and other organs.
Most forms of arthritis are chronic diseases, which means they will be with you for the rest of your life. They do not go away and cannot, at this time, be “cured” by a drug or treatment. Chronic diseases differ from acute diseases, such as pneumonia or flu, which are resolved on their own or are cured by drugs.
Just because arthritis is chronic doesn’t mean that if you have the disease you constantly experience such symptoms as pain or inflammation. Arthritis symptoms have periods of flare, when symptoms are active, and remission, when symptoms subside.
Similarly, having arthritis doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a full, active lifestyle. You can experience life fully with the help of treatments prescribed by your physician and by learning more about taking control of your arthritis and protecting your joints from further damage.
There is no known cure for arthritis, and in many cases, no certain cause for why the disease develops. New research is shedding light on why arthritis may develop, what actions may prevent some forms of the disease, and what medical treatments and lifestyle changes delay or halt further, debilitating joint damage.