Arthritis is a symptom, not a diagnosis

Arthritis Symtoms

The term arthritis is often used as a synonym for joint pain or any other associated ailment for which patients commonly seek medical attention. However, it is important to understand that arthritis is not a diagnosis but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. Although it is commonly noted in the elderly, it can affect individuals of any age. It is estimated that the disease affects around 210 million people in India alone, which is higher than the estimated prevalence of diabetes, AIDS, or cancer.

What is arthritis? 

Arthritis commonly refers to the inflammation of joint space (the gap between the bone's meeting point). It can be acute or chronic. The persistent inflammation is accompanied by pain and may eventually result in structural damage. In broader terms, it encompasses a range of conditions that affect joints. All these conditions commonly cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and a decreased range of motion in the affected joints.

Types of arthritis 

The cause of arthritis varies among individuals and not all forms of arthritis are the same. There are over 100 types of diseases or conditions that can affect the joints and can involve knees, ankles, wrists, thumbs, vertebral column, and more. The most common types of arthritis are the following: 

    1. Osteoarthritis: This is a common type of arthritis, also known as a wear and tear disease. It occurs when the soft cartilage between bones wears out, causing the bones to rub against each other, resulting in pain and degeneration. While it is a natural part of aging, other factors can contribute to the development of osteoarthritis, such as obesity, genetics, joint injuries, repetitive stress on certain joints, and certain metabolic diseases. If an individual experiences persistent joint pain, despite taking painkillers and muscle relaxants, it is recommended to consult a rheumatologist. 
    2. Rheumatoid arthritis: It is a chronic autoimmune condition that causes painful inflammation and affects various parts of the body, including the joints, skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels. In this condition, the immune system attacks the lining between the bones, making movement painful and difficult. Initially, it tends to affect smaller joints in the fingers and toes, but as the disease progresses, larger joints like the knees, ankles, hips, elbows, and shoulders can also be involved. If an individual experiences joint swelling or difficulty moving their joints, especially after waking up or following a prolonged period of physical inactivity, it is advisable to consult a rheumatologist for guidance. 
    3. Psoriatic arthritis: It occurs in individuals with psoriasis, a chronic skin and nail condition characterized by red, scaly rashes and thick, pitted fingernails. This type of arthritis affects both the skin and the joints and can manifest in varying degrees of severity. Symptoms can range from mild, with only slight discomfort and stiffness and few skin signs of psoriasis, to severe flares that significantly hinder mobility. 
    4.  Ankylosing spondylitis: It is a chronic inflammatory condition that primarily affects the axial spine and sacroiliac joints. The condition causes stiffness and pain and often leads to fusion of the spine. It is characterized by the involvement of the spine, sacroiliac joints, peripheral joints, digits, and entheses, leading to decreased spinal movement, postural abnormalities, peripheral arthritis, and enthesitis.  

    Why is arthritis a symptom? 

    Arthritis is not a diagnosis since it does not reveal the root cause of joint inflammation. Instead, it is a symptom that points to an underlying condition or may manifest as a result of various conditions. To effectively manage and treat joint pain, it is essential to identify the underlying condition responsible for arthritic symptoms. 

    Proper diagnosis 

    Diagnosing arthritis can be challenging. For individuals who are experiencing joint pain and suspect arthritis, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional, particularly a rheumatologist. They will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, which may involve reviewing medical history, performing a physical examination, conducting imaging tests, and possibly blood tests. This diagnostic process aims to identify the specific type of arthritis or underlying condition responsible for the joint symptoms and determine an appropriate treatment regimen. 

    Treatment options 

    The treatment for arthritis depends on the underlying cause. The treatment options include lifestyle modifications, medications to reduce inflammation and manage pain, physical therapy, or, in some cases, surgery. The treatment plan is tailored to the individual's diagnosis and specific needs. 


    Arthritis is a common symptom that can affect people of all ages, however, it is essential to remember that it is not a diagnosis. Instead, it serves as a signal indicating structural damage to the joints or the body. A proper diagnosis and understanding of the underlying condition are crucial for effective management and treatment. Seeking medical advice is the initial step toward finding relief and enhancing an individual's overall joint health.