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What Is Erosive Arthritis?

Dan Harkins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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One of the more painful versions of osteoarthritis is called erosive arthritis, a largely unexplained condition that strikes mostly in the hands. With this form of arthritis, not only is inflammation said to be more intense, but radiography can actually view the eroding bone and cartilage. The condition tends to appear around the age of 50, striking as many as a dozen postmenopausal women for every man.

What distinguishes erosive arthritis, or erosive osteoarthritis (EOA), from typically generalized rheumatoid arthritis is how it is often centered on the hands, particularly the joints of the fingers. This hard-worked but fragile network of bones, ligaments and cartilage, when viewed in an x-ray, will show enlarged joints and bone that is visibly degraded. Another major distinction is that the erosive variety invariably involves pain and swelling, with the joints forming into small bulbs if left untreated.

According to a 2010 report from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, a typical patient with erosive arthritis will exhibit radiological signs of bone degradation in the distal and proximal interphalangeal joints of the fingers. These are the joints at the tip and base of each finger. Often, cysts appear at these joints as well as synovitis — characterized by swelling around the outer membrane of each joint.

Many among the elderly suffer from a more generalized form of osteoarthritis. It can strike as many as three in four adults over 65. Erosive arthritis, on the other hand, strikes no more than one in seven of those patients with osteoarthritis. Occasionally, other conditions can be initially mistaken for erosive osteoarthritis, such as gout or psoriatic arthritis. Radiologists, however, can easily find the characteristic degradations of EOA, with names like "saw tooth" and "gull wing" to match how they look in an x-ray.

Treatment for erosive arthritis will depend on the severity of the pain and bone degradation. Occupational and physical therapy can help to optimize the flexibility, strength and control of the fingers into old age. Over-the-counter or prescription pain medication is commonly recommended to lessen the pain of joint inflammation. Other medications like the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine also have proven successful with lessening symptoms in the long term. This latter drug is regularly prescribed to sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis.

Scientists have yet to determine exactly what causes erosive or rheumatoid arthritis, which triggers the body's immune system to begin attacking its own joint structure. Genetic inheritance as well as diet, level of fitness and environment all are prime suspects in 2011. Smoking also may increase a person's risk.

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Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.
Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Sep 21, 2013

Is there any way to stop or slow down the development of erosive arthritis?

I was diagnosed with it six months ago. I've been using topical pain creams and I take oral pain relievers as necessary. I went to physical therapy for a month but it didn't do much.

None of these treatments treat the underlying condition, they just treat the symptoms. I feel so helpless.

By stoneMason — On Sep 21, 2013

@ankara-- I think it's because postmenopausal women are at risk of osteoporosis. Osteoporosis reduces bone density and makes bones fragile and easy to break. I guess when that starts to happen, bones began to erode and it leads to erosive arthritis.

I think postmenopausal women who have hand inflammation and pain should get an x-ray to rule out erosive arthritis.

By bluedolphin — On Sep 20, 2013

Why are postmenopausal women more at risk of erosive arthritis than men?

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
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