Hannah Hoag, BSc
There are about 100 different forms of arthritis. Gout, lupus, and ankylosing spondylitis are members of the arthritis family, as are the better known osteoarthritic and rheumatic versions. Between birth and death, nearly 3.5 million Canadians are affected by some form of the disease. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are 2 forms of chronic arthritis that are observed in, but not restricted to, the aging population. Arthritis can be defined, most simply, as an inflammation of the joint, however, the severity of the condition varies significantly. Pain can be mild or severe, and the disease can remain isolated to one joint or have systemic effects. With so many variant forms of the disease, it is not surprising that the causes of arthritis are somewhat unclear. However, the importance of the interplay between cartilage, the immune system, heredity, and the environment has been recognized in the onset of disease. Much of current research has been devoted to understanding normal immune function and how dysfunction causes arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is identified as being of either primary or secondary origin. Primary osteoarthritis is viewed as a consequence of the aging process.1 Over 85% of people over the age of 70 suffer from osteoarthritis. Secondary osteoarthritis is not associated with the aging process but due to other factors such as injury, obesity, and changes in cartilage chemistry.