Everyone is familiar with the term “arthritis,’ including those who are not affected by it. However, few people understand what it is. Arthritis is not a single disease, but an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint disease. In fact, the term “arthritis” refers to more than 100 types of conditions. According to the American Arthritis Foundation, there are four important warning signs of arthritis, regardless of which type a person may have:

  1. Pain. Arthritis-related pain may be constant or intermittent. Arthritis pain can occur while the body is at rest and is not always triggered by an activity that incorporates a part of the body affected by arthritis. Pain from arthritis can also be isolated to one area of the body or affect various parts of the body.
  2. Swelling. Skin over the joints affected by arthritis may become red and swollen, and feel warm to the touch. Anyone experiencing this swelling for three days or longer, or more than three times per month, should contact a physician.
  3. Stiffness. Stiffness when waking up in the morning or after long periods of being sedentary, such as sitting at a desk during the workday or taking a long car ride, can be symptomatic of arthritis, especially if the stiffness lasts an hour or longer.
  4. Difficulty moving a joint. People who experience difficulty moving, such as when getting out of bed, may have arthritis.

People who recognize any of these warning signs should report them to their physicians immediately. Be as specific as possible when describing these symptoms, as specificity can help physicians design the most effective course of treatment.