Joint Inflammation | Symptoms and Treatment of Inflammatory Joint Diseases

Joint Inflammation: When you think of arthritis, you’re probably thinking of inflammation. Inflammation is a process in which your body’s white blood cells and immune proteins help protect you from infection and things like bacteria and viruses.

Joint Inflammation | Symptoms and Treatment of Inflammatory Joint Diseases
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In some diseases, your immune system triggers an inflammatory response when there isn’t anything to fight off. With these diseases, called autoimmune diseases, your body’s immune system damages its own tissues. Your body responds as if normal tissues need to be fought off.

Types of Arthritis linked to Inflammation

Arthritis is a general term that describes conditions that affect your joints. Some types of arthritis are the result of this inflammation, including:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Gouty arthritis
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

The most common form of arthritis is called osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis. Experts don’t think inflammation plays the same role in osteoarthritis. Other painful conditions of your joints and musculoskeletal system that aren’t tied to inflammation include fibromyalgia, muscular low back pain, and muscular neck pain.

Symptoms of Joint Inflammation

The symptoms of inflammation include:

  • Redness
  • Joint swelling
  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Loss of joint function

Often, you’ll have only a few of these symptoms.

Inflammation may also have general flu-like symptoms including:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue/loss of energy
  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stiff muscles

Causes of Joint Inflammation

When you have inflammation, your body releases chemicals into your blood or affected tissues. These chemicals boost blood flow to an area of injury or infection and may cause redness and warmth. Some of the chemicals cause fluid to leak into your tissues, and that can bring on swelling. This process may trigger your nerves and cause pain.

Results

More blood flow and the release of these chemicals attract white blood cells to the sites of inflammation. The higher number of cells and inflammatory chemicals in your joint can cause irritation, wearing down of cartilage (cushions at the end of bones), and swelling of your joint lining (synovium).

Diagnosis

Diagnosis of inflammatory joint diseases consists of all or some of these exams:

  • Medical history and physical exam, focusing on which joints are involved
  • Evaluation of other symptoms besides joint symptoms
  • X-rays, blood tests, and other studies

Can Inflammation Affect Internal Organs?

Inflammation can affect your organs as part of an autoimmune disorder. The symptoms depend on which organs are affected. For example:

  • Inflammation of your heart (myocarditis) may cause chest pain or fluid retention.
  • Inflammation of the small tubes that bring air to your lungs (bronchiolitis) may cause shortness of breath.
  • An inflammation of your kidneys (nephritis) may cause high blood pressure or kidney failure.
  • Inflammation of your eye (iritis or uveitis) may cause pain or vision problems.
  • Inflammation of your muscles (polymyositis) may cause achiness or weakness.
  • The inflammation of your blood vessels (vasculitis) may cause rash, headaches, or internal organ damage.

Pain may not be a main symptom, because many organs don’t have nerves that sense pain.

Treatments for Joint Inflammation

Treatments for inflammatory joint diseases include medications, rest, exercise, and surgery to correct joint damage. Your treatment will depend on several things including the type of disease, your age, the type of medications you’re taking, your overall health, your medical history, and how severe your symptoms are.

The goals of treatment are to:

  • Treat the disease that’s causing your inflammation
  • Relieve pain with medication and by changing your activities
  • Maintain joint movement, muscle strength, and overall function with physical therapy and exercise
  • Lessen stress on your joints by using braces, splints, or canes as needed

Medications

Many drugs can ease pain, swelling and inflammation. They may also prevent or slow down the joint inflammation. Doctors often prescribe more than one. The medications include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen)
  • Corticosteroids (such as prednisone)
  • Antimalarial medications (such as hydroxychloroquine)
  • Other medicines known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), including azathioprine, cyclophosphamide, leflunomide, methotrexate, and sulfasalazine
  • Biologic drugs such as abatacept, adalimumab, certolizumab, etanercept, infliximab, golimumab, rituximab, and tocilizumab

Some of these are also used to treat conditions such as cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, or to prevent organ rejection after a transplant. But when “chemotherapy” types of medications (such as methotrexate or cyclophosphamide) are used to treat inflammatory diseases, they tend to have lower doses and less risk of side effects than when they’re prescribed for cancer treatment.

If your doctor prescribes any medication, it’s important that you meet with them regularly so they can watch for side effects.

Home remedies

Some ways to ease long-term joint inflammation include:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Manage stress.
  • Get regular physical activity.
  • Try supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids, white willow bark, curcumin, green tea, or capsaicin. Magnesium and vitamins B6, C, D, and E also have some anti-inflammatory effects. Talk with your doctor before starting any supplement.

Surgery

You may need surgery if inflammation has severely damaged your joints. Common procedures include:

  • Arthroscopy. Your doctor makes a few small cuts around the affected joint. They insert thin instruments to fix tears, repair damaged tissue, or take out bits of cartilage or bone.
  • Osteotomy. Your doctor takes out part of the bone near a damaged joint.
  • Synovectomy. All or part of the lining of the joint (called the synovium) is removed if it’s inflamed or has grown too much.
  • Arthrodesis. Pins or plates can permanently fuse bones together.
  • Joint replacement. Your doctor replaces a damaged joint with an artificial one made of metal, plastic, or ceramic.

What Drugs Are Used to Treat Inflammatory Diseases?

Many drugs are available to ease joint pain, swelling, or inflammation and hopefully to keep your inflammatory disease from getting worse. These medications include:

  • Anti-inflammatory pain relievers (NSAIDs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen)
  • Corticosteroids (such as prednisone)
  • Other medications including chemotherapy drugs, disease-modifying treatments, biologic therapy, and narcotic pain relievers. Some of these medications treat other conditions, such as cancer and inflammatory bowel disease, or they prevent organ rejection after transplants. But your doctor can prescribe them to help treat your symptoms. Your dose or side effects may be different. But these are strong medications, and your doctor will want to keep a close eye on you while you take them.

Preventing Joint Inflammation

You can lower your risk of getting inflammation by making some changes in your daily life. These include:

  • Keep a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Don’t smoke
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids

If you’re taking any prescription drug for a joint inflammation problem, it is important to meet with your doctor regularly so they can check how well it is working and whether you have any side effects.

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