What are the differences between Arthritis and Arthralgia?

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Sometimes,medical terms can seem confusing and not seem like English at all. In fact they can seem like a whole other language entirely. So with that in mind it can become quite confusing until your Doctor takes his time to explain everything to you! So, if you have ever read “Arthralgia” in your medical records and been confused, the first thing  comes to mind is: “So does this mean I have arthritis?”

For this reason, in this article, we are going to give you a clear understanding of arthritis and arthralgia. Are they really the same thing? What is the medical approach for each of these medical conditions and how severe are they? 

Thedifference between arthritis and arthralgia becomes even more elusive incertain websites. Some authors use both terms interchangeably, but they are not the same thing in the clinical language and medical texts.

Arthralgia can be defined as pain located in the articulations. It has no distinctions as to which articulations it affects, the pattern it follows, and any other related symptom. The term “arthralgia” does not explain the reason behind the pain and does not clearly define how to treat the condition either.

In simple words, arthralgia is a symptom with various causes:

The symptom and the disease

  • Gout attack: It’s one of the most famous causes of arthralgia, due to an increase in uric acid which precipitates into crystals inside the articulation.
  • Dengue virus, rubella, and parvovirus B19:  An infection by these and other viruses cause many different symptoms, including joint pain (arthralgia) in various forms.
  • Rheumatic fever: It starts as an untreated throat infection and may affect the heart valves, the articulations, and other tissues.
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: A complex autoimmune disease with various manifestations depending on the patient, including arthralgia in most cases.

Similar to the medical entities described above, arthritis is another common cause of arthralgia. Thus, we can say arthralgia is the symptom while arthritis is the name of a disease. Different from the term “arthralgia,” being diagnosed with arthritis would clearly imply the pattern of the disease, which articulations are more commonly affected, and how it usually progresses.

Types of arthritis and arthralgia

While still a symptom, there are different types of arthralgia, depending on the root cause. Each type of arthralgia would comprise a series of diseases which a clinician should rule out before reaching to a diagnosis. The main types of arthralgia are as follows:

  • Bacterial arthralgia: It iscaused by a bacterial infection, such as gonococcal arthritis (Neisseriagonorrhea), and Lyme disease (Borrelia spp.).
  • Viral arthralgia: It iscaused by various viruses, such as the ones mentioned above and mostviral hemorrhagic fevers.
  • Autoimmune arthralgia: Which are caused by autoimmunediseases or a cross-reaction as it happens in rheumatic fever. Other examplesare Systemic Lupus Erythematosus andRheumatoid Arthritis.
  • Arthralgia caused by structural damage: In manycases, joint pain is not caused by an inflammatory or infectious process, butby structural damage instead. It is common to experience arthralgia after severe trauma, and athletes sustainmicro-trauma to their articulations that may add up to cause articular painrequiring short-term treatment and rest.
  • As defined by NCBI Arthralgia

On the other hand, arthritis is a defined medical entity with many variants. All types of arthritis cause joint pain (arthralgia), but not all types of arthralgia are diagnosed as a variant of arthritis. These are the most common types of arthritis:

  • 5 Stages of Rheumatoid arthritis: It is known as the prototype ofarthritis, but it is not the only one. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmunedisease that results in swollen and painful joints. There’s an inflammatoryprocess in the joints affecting the joint capsule, the articular cartilage, and the bones, and it usually causesdeformation and limitation of the range of movement in the long run. It regularlyappears in middle-aged women with geneticpredisposition and some environmental factors, and it often needs steroids torelieve the pain.
  • Juvenile Idiopathic arthritis: It isclosely linked with rheumatoid arthritis, but it usually appears inchildren aged 1 to 6 years. It is similar to rheumatoid arthritis but does notattack the cartilage so severely, and itmay be self-limited. The term “idiopathic”means there’s no possible cause or explanation yet, and there is still ongoingresearch. However, some authors say it may be causedby a genetic predisposition along with psychological stress.
  • Reiter’s disease: It is also called reactivearthritis, and it is an inflammatory disease usually triggered by an immunecross-reaction. In simple words, there’s an infection (usually gastroenteritisor sexually transmitted infections), and the organism creates antibodies against thepathogens. But as the disease progresses, these antibodies start to recognizeand attack the joint tissue by mistake.
  • Septic arthritis: Is the infection of the joint byvarious bacteria after an open trauma tothe articulation or by microorganisms traveling through the bloodstream. Itcauses a severe inflammatory process in the articulationwith a very rapid onset, and it is treatedwith antibiotics, and sometimes surgery would be needed when the infected articulation has a prosthetic joint.

After reviewing the types of arthritis and arthralgia, another critical difference becomes noticeable: Arthritis always involves the inflammation of the joint. This inflammation may be caused by an autoimmune complex or the organism releasing an inflammatory reaction against a given pathogen causing alterations to the joint tissue in the process. Conversely, the concept of arthralgia does not involve swelling or inflammation and includes non-inflammatory causes such as trauma, ligament problems, and other structural defects.

References:

Kasper, D. L., Fauci, A. S., Hauser, S. L., Longo, D. L. 1., Jameson, J. L., & Loscalzo, J. (2015). Harrison’s principles of internal medicine (19th edition.). New York: McGraw Hill Education.

Silva, J. A. P. d., & Woolf, A. D. (2010). Rheumatology in practice. London: Springer.

Doria, A., Zen, M., Canova, M., Bettio, S., Bassi, N., Nalotto, L., … & Iaccarino, L. (2010). SLE diagnosis and treatment: when early is early. Autoimmunity reviews10(1), 55-60.

Majithia, V., &Geraci, S. A. (2007). Rheumatoid arthritis: diagnosis and management. TheAmerican journal of medicine120(11), 936-939.

Wikipedia Arthralgia

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