In RA, the immune system attacks the lining of the joint becomes inflamed, leading to the stiffness, pain, warmth, redness, and swelling around the joint. Then the disease leads to rapid division and growth of cells, which causes the synovium to thicken. Later the inflamed cells release enzymes that may digest bone and cartilage, causing joint erosion. The swelling, warmth and stiffness that accompany RA can last for hours. It can affect any joint, but usually starts in small joints (like those in the hands or feet) and occurs on both sides of the body. Joint stiffness is usually worst in the morning. Other symptoms such as pain or fatigue tend to develop and worsen over several weeks or months.

OA usually occurs due to wear and tear, injury or both. The most commonly affected joints are the lower back, hips, knees and feet. Although inflammation is not a main symptom of osteoarthritis, it can occur in the joint lining in response to the cartilage breakdown. Morning stiffness may be severe but is usually brief – less than 30 minutes, that occurs after waking up in the morning or a period of rest. Joint redness, warmth and swelling are usually minimal.

In psoriatic arthritis, joint pain is usually associated with swelling and redness in the knees, ankles, fingers, and toes. Some people with psoriatic arthritis also have neck and/or back pain, along with stiffness that can limit movement. The disease can also include swelling of fingers and/or toes that gives them a “sausage-like” appearance. Silver or gray dry, scaly spots on the scalp, elbows, knees and/or the lower end of the backbone with flaking skin can be associated with PA, as can small depressions in the fingernails and/or toenails, and/or detachment of nails.

In an arthritis-related disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, or commonly called lupus), the immune system attacks itself causing swelling and pain. Most individuals with lupus have rashes, swollen joints, fever and feel fatigued. Sometimes weight loss and hair loss in spots or around the hairline occurs.

Do You Have Arthritis?

How do you know if your inflammation and stiffness means you have arthritis? Only a health care professional can tell you for sure, but certain signs usually point to arthritis. There are four important warning signs that should prompt you to talk to a health care provider.  

  1. Pain. Pain from arthritis can be constant or it may come and go. It may occur when at rest or while moving. Pain may be in one part of the body or in many different parts.
  2. Swelling. Some types of arthritis cause the skin over the affected joint to become red and swollen, feeling warm to the touch. Swelling that lasts for three days or longer or occurs more than three times a month should prompt a visit to the doctor.
  3. Stiffness. This is a classic arthritis symptom, especially when waking up in the morning or after sitting at a desk or riding in a car for a long time. Morning stiffness that lasts longer than an hour is good reason to suspect arthritis.
  4. Difficulty moving a joint. It shouldn’t be that hard or painful to get up from your favorite chair.