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Arthritis is the inflammation of one or more joints. It is characterized by pain, swelling, stiffness, deformity, and/or a diminished range of motion. More than 50 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis (degenerative, age related), rheumatoid arthritis (a debilitating auto-immune disorder), and related conditions (fibromyalgia, gout, lupus, Lyme disease).
These conditions affect the body's movable, or synovial joints where two or more adjoining movable bones, whose adjacent surfaces are covered with a layer of cartilage, are surrounded by a fluid-filled capsule made up of ligaments. The fluid is secreted by a thin membrane, the synovial membrane, that lines the inside of the joint capsule. Thanks to this viscous fluid and the smooth, rubbery, blue-white cartilage that covers the ends of the bones within the joint, they normally glide smoothly past one another.
In healthy joints, the synovial membrane is thin, the cartilage that covers the bones is smooth and a thin layer of synovial fluid covers the surfaces. If anything goes wrong with any of these factors, arthritis can result. Arthritis may appear suddenly or come on gradually. Moving the joint generally hurts although sometimes there is only stiffness. The swelling and deformity that takes place in arthritic joints can result from a thickening of the synovial membrane, an increase in excretion of synovial fluid, enlargement of the bones, or some combination of these factors.
Arthritis can also be caused by bacterial, viral, or fungal infection of a joint. The microorganisms most commonly involved in this type of disorder, called infectious arthritis, are streptococci, staphylococci, gonococci, hemophilus and fungi such as Candida albicans and can be the result of an infection elsewhere in the body or can be caused by an injury or even surgery. Symptoms include redness, swelling, pain, and tenderness in the affected joint, often accompanied by systemic symptoms of infection such as fever, chills, and body aches.