Inflammatory arthritis is a group of diseases characterized by inflammation of the joints and often other tissues. These include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) among others.
Many inflammatory forms of arthritis are autoimmune diseases. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system turns against the body it's designed to protect for unknown reasons. Research suggests that for many forms, genetics plays an important role, but it also shows that genes alone do not determine who gets the diseases and that other factors play a role. These factors are likely different for different diseases but may include infectious agents, stress, cigarette smoke and hormones.
Inflammatory arthritis is characterized by pain, swelling, warmth and tenderness in the joints as well as morning stiffness that lasts for more than an hour. Because most inflammatory forms of arthritis are systemic (meaning they affect the entire body), other symptoms related to inflammation may occur in other parts of the body. Depending on the specific form of arthritis, these symptoms could include skin rashes, eye inflammation, hair loss, dry mouth and fever.
A doctor makes a diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis based largely on a medical history and physical exam. Depending on the particular form of arthritis, the diagnosis may be confirmed through other tests including lab tests and X-rays or other imaging tests.
Treatment for inflammatory arthritis is tailored to the specific disease, its symptoms and its severity; however, several drugs are used for different forms of inflammatory arthritis. These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain and inflammation and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or biologic agents to slow or stop the progression of the disease and damage to the joints. Less commonly, corticosteroids are used to quickly stop inflammation that threatens the joints or internal organs.
Self-management involves understanding and following the treatment prescribed by doctors and other healthcare providers. But it also involves making lifestyle choices and addressing both the physical and emotional effects of having a rheumatic disease like inflammatory arthritis. Self-management encompasses the choices made each day to live well and stay healthy.