A description of the medical terms used in this arthritis guide.



A condition in which someone has too few red blood cells or a lower level of haemoglobin. This affects the ability of the blood to transport oxygen to the rest of the body. Symptoms include tiredness, pale appearance and shortness of breath.

Analgesics The medical name for painkillers which are used to relieve all type of pain. Examples of these include aspirin and paracetamol.

Anklyosing spondylitis

A form of arthritis which occurs in the spine and the joints which attach the spine to the pelvis (known as sacroiliac joints).

Antinuclear antibody (ANA)

A type of abnormal protein present in the blood. High levels of these in the blood indicate that the person has an inflammatory disease such as lupus.

Anti-TNF blockers The name for a group of drugs which prevent TNF from working and thereby preventing the further spread of the disease.


The name given to a medical condition in which the joints of the body are affected. Typical symptoms include pain, swelling, stiffness and inflammation in the affected joint. There are around 200 different forms of arthritis.

Autoimmune disease

A disease which occurs due to an overactive immune system. The immune system turns upon itself and attacks healthy cells and tissues in the body leading to conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.


Bacterial This refers to anything to do with bacteria, e.g. bacterial infections. Bacteria are tiny micro-organisms which are either autonomous or parasitical. Parasitical bacteria cause a range of diseases such as food poisoning.


A bony outgrowth at the bottom of the joint of the big toe: this is usually caused by swelling and inflammation as a result of arthritis.


Cartilage A white, smooth, spongy tissue which acts as a cushion between the joints. An example of this is the layer of cartilage which acts as a shock absorber in the knee joint. This enables the joint to move in a variety of ways. Chronic disease As opposed to an acute disease: this refers to a medical condition which persists for a long period of time, e.g. several years. Arthritis is a good example of a chronic condition.

Connective tissue This refers to a type of tissue, composed of a network of fibres which acts as a support system for the skeleton, e.g. the joints.

Corticosteroids Often known as ‘steroids’ for short: a form of synthetic hormone used to treat a range of diseases such as arthritis. They help to reduce inflammation within an affected joint.

Cox-2 inhibitor A type of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) which is commonly prescribed to treat the symptoms of arthritis. It relieves the pain, stiffness and inflammation caused by arthritis.


Diagnosis The medical term for the decision reached by a doctor regarding the nature of a disease: or confirmation of a disease or illness, e.g. arthritis.

Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) A group of drugs which act upon the symptoms of arthritis. They are often prescribed in cases of rheumatoid arthritis and help to arrest the spread of this condition.


Erosion A medical term used to describe the wearing away of cartilage and/or bone within a joint.


Fatigue A condition characterised by extreme tiredness. This is either acute or persists for a period of time. A common aspect of arthritis.

Femur The medical name for the long bone in the thigh.

Fibromyalgia A chronic condition in which the muscles, tendons and joints become stiff, painful and sore. But there is no inflammation in the joint or any deformity which means that this condition is not considered a form of arthritis.


One of two bones within the lower leg. Also known as the calf bone.

Flare up A term used to describe a period in which the symptoms of arthritis are at their most intense. This means a fever, pain and aching joints. Fatigue is another common symptom. These are interspersed with periods of remission.

Fusion The medical term for the stiffening of a joint which renders it immobile.


Gout A type of arthritis caused by a build up of uric acid within the body leading to pain and swelling in the joints. A common example of this is the enlargement of the joint of the big toe.


Hammer toes The name given to a deformity of the toes caused by conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. The toes become dislocated and resemble the long hammers within a piano – hence the name.

Hyaluronic acid A substance found in the synovial fluid within a joint. This fluid helps to lubricate the joint as ell as ensuring a full range of movement.


Immune system A complex system within the body which acts as the first line of defence against bacteria, infections and viruses. It destroys any foreign substances or bodies that access the body.

Immunosuppressants The name for a group of drugs which are used to dampen down the effects of rheumatoid arthritis and other similar conditions. But they lower the immune system which increases the person’s vulnerability to disease or infection. Used with caution.

Inflammation The body’s response to an accident, disease, illness or infection. It responds in a variety of ways by causing a fever, tenderness and pain within the affected area. If this occurs in a joint then it causes pain, stiffness, inflammation and redness.


Joint Medical term for the connection between two bones, e.g. a knee joint. It describes the joining of two bones via cartilage which is surrounded by muscles, ligaments and tendons. These act as a support mechanism for the joint.


None at present.



Tough strands of connective tissue which join bones together. They form part of a joint.

Lupus The full name is systemic lupus erythematosus (if the internal organs are affected). Another type of lupus is discoid lupus. This type of arthritis is caused by an autoimmune disease and affects the joints plus internal organs of the body. Affects more women than men.


Muscles Tissues within the body which provide power and strength. They also help to keep the body upright and enable it to perform a wide range of movements, e.g. lifting an object.


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s)

These are a popular form of medication for the treatment of arthritis. They help to ease the pain and inflammation caused by arthritis and without the inclusion of steroids.


Occupational therapist A trained healthcare professional who works with arthritis patients to assess the extent of this condition on their day to day living. The aim is to devise a series of methods for coping with this condition and reducing the risk of damage to the joints.

Orthopaedic surgeon A surgical specialist who treats a range of problems affecting the ligaments, tendons and joints.

Osteoarthritis The most common form of arthritis in the UK. This is caused by wear and tear of the cartilage within a joint which leads to pain, stiffness, inflammation and limited mobility in that joint. Often occurs with age.

Osteoporosis A condition common in many women in which the bones become thinner and weaker due to a reduction in bone mass. This increases the risk of a fracture. Often called ‘brittle bone disease’.


A surgical operation in which an affected bone is cut and realigned. This is performed to correct a deformity caused by arthritis.


Pain A broad ranging definition which encompasses short, acute pain through to chronic, throbbing pain. Pain can be mild through to intense.

Podiatrist Someone who is trained in all aspects of foot care and foot related disorders. A podiatrist will prescribe corrective insoles known as orthotics to correct any imbalances in the feet or problems with walking caused by arthritis.

Psoriatic arthritis

A form of arthritis which often occurs in people with psoriasis (skin condition). It causes inflammation within the joints.


None at present.


Rash The name for the eruption which occurs on parts of the body. This takes the form of spots or raised pimples on the skin which can be itchy and sore.

Reactive arthritis This type of arthritis often develops after a urinary, genital or gastrointestinal infection, e.g. food poisoning. The immune system has an abnormal reaction to this leading to pain and inflammation within the joints and eyes. Remission

The name given to the period in which the symptoms of arthritis settle down or even disappear. See flare up.

Rheumatoid arthritis

A very common form of arthritis which attacks the joints of the body. It is an autoimmune disease which causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the joints which may also affect the internal organs. This condition can lead to a deformity of a joint and in severe cases, a disability.

Rheumatologist A specialist who deals with rheumatic diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and other musculoskeletal disorders.


Sacroiliac joints The joints which help to connect the spine to the pelvis.

Splint A device used to support a limb or a joint, e.g. wrist splint.

Spondylitis The name for an inflammation within the vertebrae of the spine, e.g. ankylosing spondylitis.

Synovial fluid

The clear fluid which acts as a lubricant in the joint and prevents any friction. This aids with mobility.


Tendon The thick bundle of fibres which connect the bones to the muscles or muscles to other muscles.


The larger bone in the lower leg. The other name for this is the shin bone. Tumour necrosis factor (TNF)

A chemical in the body which acts as a stimulant for inflammation and tissue damage within a joint. It helps to spread this inflammation but can be prevented from doing so by means of an anti-TNF drug.


Uric acid A waste product in the body which is usually excreted via the kidneys. Excess amounts of this form as crystals within the joints and tissues leading to gout.


Vertebrae The medical term for the bones that form the spinal column. These bones lie on top of each other and are separated by spongy discs which enable the spine to bend and move.


None at present.



A very popular diagnostic tool which uses radiation to produce a series of images of the skeleton.


Yoga An ancient Indian practice based upon meditation and exercises to achieve a higher state of being. These exercises are recommended for arthritis patients as they help to improve the flexibility and strength of the joints.


None at present.

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