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Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, usually occurs in elderly people because of normal wear and tear. Although it appears to be a natural result of aging, such factors as obesity and repeated trauma can contribute to the disease. Osteoarthritis occurs mostly in joints used in weight bearing, such as the hips, knees, and spinal column. It involves breakdown of cartilage and narrowing of the joint space, with growth of bone spurs at the edges of the joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a crippling condition characterized by joint swelling in the hands, the feet, and elsewhere as a result of inflammation and overgrowth of the synovial membranes and other joint tissues. The articular cartilage is gradually destroyed, and the joint cavity develops adhesions—that is, the surfaces tend to stick together—so that the joints stiffen and ultimately become useless. The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is uncertain. However, the disease shares many characteristics of autoimmune disorders, in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. The role of inherited susceptibility is clear. Successful treatment includes rest, appropriate exercise, medications to reduce pain and swelling, and suppression of the immune