Arthritis Glossary » Arthritis, Exercise, & Active Living: The ENACT Center


Glossary of Commonly Used Terms

Courtesy of The Missouri Arthritis Rehabilitation Research and Training Center, the previous NIDILRR Arthritis Research Rehabilitation and Training Center


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Anemia is marked by a decreased count of red blood cells in the body, which affects the blood’s ability to carry oxygen to various organs in the body. Anemia can be a standalone disorder, but it is often a symptom of a concurrent disease. There are several types of anemia, depending on the cause. Anemia can be caused by iron deficiency, malnutrition, blood loss, certain medications, a chronic illness or a genetic disorder.

Ankylosing spondylitis

This is a chronic condition caused by inflammation of the joints and ligaments of the back, which affects the spine and may lead to stiffness in the back.

Antiresorptive Drugs

A class of drugs used to prevent thinning of the bones


Arthritis is chronic condition marked by inflammation, pain and stiffness in the joints. More than 100 diseases fall under the arthritis category, each with its own subset of symptoms, causes and complications.


A radiographic examination of a joint after the injection of a dye-like contrast material and/or air to outline the soft tissue and joint structures on the images.

Autoimmune diseases

A host of diseases caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking the body’s own cells, tissues and organs. Auto-immune diseases are marked by inflammation, but symptoms and complications vary greatly. Some of the most common auto-immune diseases are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, multiple sclerosis and diabetes mellitus.

Bone Density

Bone density is measured by the amount of mineral in bones. Loss of mineral matter in the bone is one of several factors that can make the bones more brittle, which can lead to osteoporosis. Bone density is measured by a test called dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA).


A hard but slippery coating on the end of each bone. In certain diseases, such as osteoarthritis, cartilage breaks down and wears away.


Collagen is a fibrous protein that functions as a building block of the skin, the tendons, the bones, as well as other connective tissues.


This is a family of drugs used to treat numerous autoimmune and inflammatory conditions. They are also used to treat severe allergic reactions and to prevent rejection after an organ transplant.

COX-2 inhibitors

This is the newest class of non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, used to rein in inflammatory processes. They work by blocking the COX-2 enzyme, which is involved in triggering inflammation.

Community-based LTC

Community-based LTC refers to community-based programs such as Meals-on-Wheels, home health services, adult foster care centers, adult day care centers, hospice and other.


One of two types of scleroderma, an autoimmune disorder characterized by thickening of the skin. Unlike the more severe form of scleroderma called progressive systemic sclerosis, which affects internal organs, CREST is limited to the skin of the hands and face. CREST stands for Calcinosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, Esophageal involvement, Sclerodactyly and Telangiectasia. (See Progressive systemic sclerosis)


A limitation in the performance of roles and tasks that society expects an individual to perform. The expression of a gap between a person’s capabilities and the demands of an environment.

Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARD)

A powerful class of drugs used as a second line of defense to treat persistent inflammatory processes. These drugs can be prescribed in conjunction with more traditional non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). DMARDs slow down the biological processes that cause the persistent inflammation.

Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)

A test that measures the rate at which red blood cells settle in unclotted blood. The ESR may be used to evaluate patients with unexplained symptoms or a deterioration of health when:

  • an inflammatory, neoplastic (cancer in its earliest stages), or infectious disease is suspected and
  • a specific diagnosis is not made effectively by other means


Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and multiple tender points in localized areas, such as the neck, spine, shoulders, and hips. The syndrome is marked by concurrent symptoms including sleep disturbances, morning stiffness, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, and other symptoms.


Immunology is the study of the immune system and its reaction to pathogens, as well as its malfunctions, such as allergies and autoimmune diseases.


The incidence of disease is defined as the number of new cases of disease occurring in a population during a defined time interval. The number is used to measure risk. High incidence may indicate an impending epidemic. Incidence is different from prevalence. (See Prevalence)

Institutional LTC

Institutional LTC is care provided in institutional settings such as services provided in residential homes, assisted living facilities, skilled nursing facilities, sub-acute care facilities.

Joint capsule

A tough membrane sac that holds all the bones and other joint parts together.

Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is arthritis that causes joint inflammation and stiffness for more than six weeks in children under 16. JRA can affect any joint and mobility may become limited. There are three types of JRA, one of them can affect the internal organs.

Long-term care (LTC)

Long-term care (LTC) is an umbrella term that encompasses many varieties and levels of care and services provided to both temporarily and chronically impaired persons over an extended period of time. LTC may overlap with primary and/or acute care. By the same token, the rehabilitation of an individual might require more than one type of service. LTC should be well integrated within the rest of the healthcare system. Ideally, an individual requiring different types of care should be able to transition back and forth easily between different levels of care. Although the majority of recipients of LTC are the elderly, young people with temporary or permanent physical limitations require LTC services as well. The goal of LTC is to help an individual maintain maximum functional independence. LTC could be preventive or therapeutic, acute or chronic, mental or social, institutional or community based.


Lupus is an autoimmune disease, caused by the body’s immune system mistakenly attacking its own tissues and organs. Lupus is a chronic inflammatory condition that can affect one or more organs, including the skin, blood, joints, heart, lungs and kidneys. There are four different types of lupus.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging)

A diagnostic test for viewing the body’s internal structures, especially soft tissues.


National Institute of Arthritis and Muscloskeletal and Skin Diseases. Part of the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services.


National Institute on Disability, Independent Living and Rehabilitation Research, part of the U.S. Department of Education.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID)

A class of drugs used to treat inflammatory symptoms in the body caused by arthritis, rheumatism and other similar conditions.


Osteoarthritis (OA) is a joint disease that affects the cartilage. It is the most common type of arthritis, especially among older people. Also called degenerative joint disease.

Personal Care

Personal Care refers to assistance with activities of daily living. It is usually provided by home health aides (some aides are non-licensed), transportation and shopping aides, certified nursing assistants or therapy aides. It may be provided by home health agencies, adult foster care or adult day care, as well as in residential and assisted living facilities.

Platelets (also called thrombocytes)

Platelets are tiny blood particles that help the clotting process by sticking to the lining of blood vessels. Platelets are made in the bone marrow and survive in the circulatory system for an average of about 10 days before being removed from the body by the spleen.


Prevalence differs from incidence in that it does not convey information about risk. Prevalence is defined as the number of individuals with a certain disease in a population at a specified time divided by the number of individuals in the population at that time. (See Incidence)

Progressive systemic sclerosis

One of two types of scleroderma, an autoimmune disease characterized by thickening of the skin and by hardening of the tissue of some internal organs. The other form of scleroderma is called CREST. (See CREST)

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition characterized by the concurrent development of both arthritis and psoriasis. It is affects both the joints and the skin.

Restorative Care

Restorative care goes beyond rehabilitation and into services designed to restore or improve a person’s functional independence. Examples of restorative care include physical or occupation therapy, speech therapy, range-of-motion exercises, bowel and bladder training, assisted walking. It can be provided by home health agencies, rehabilitation units of hospitals, free standing inpatient rehabilitation facilities (IRF), rehabilitation clinics, adult daycare centers, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities.


A field of internal medicine devoted to the diagnosis and treatment of rheumatic diseases, which involve pathologies of the muscles, tendons and joints. Rheumatic symptoms may have underlying causes not related to rheumatology.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease, caused by improper immune reactions that occur when the one’s immune system attacks one’s own body, mistaking it for a foreign invader. RA causes inflammation in the lining of the joints and, sometimes, of other internal organs.

Rheumatoid Factor

A blood test used to help diagnose rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The test may also be used to help diagnose the arthritis-related condition called Sjögren’s syndrome.

Raynaud’s syndrome (Raynaud’s phenomenon)

This is a condition characterized by blood vessel spasms in the fingers, toes, ears or nose, usually brought on by exposure to cold. Raynaud’s phenomenon can occur in people with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma.


Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder marked by hardening of the body’s connective tissue, but can also involve internal organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract. There are two types of scleroderma: CREST, which is limited to the skin, and progressive systemic sclerosis, which affects internal organs. (See CREST and Progressive systemic sclerosis)

Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome is a disorder in which immune cells attack and destroy the glands that produce tears and saliva, resulting in dry eyes and mouth. Sjogren’s syndrome is also associated with other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. The hallmark symptoms of the disorder are dry mouth and dry eyes. In its more severe forms, Sjogren’s syndrome may cause skin, nose, and vaginal dryness and also affect other organs including the kidneys, blood vessels, lungs, liver, pancreas, and brain.

Skilled Nursing Care

Skilled Nursing Care is medical care provided by a licensed nurse, usually under the supervision of a physician. Examples of skilled nursing care include monitoring a patient’s condition, intravenous therapy, phlebotomy, tube care, oncology care, rehabilitation and other. Skilled nursing care is provided by home-health agencies and skilled nursing facilities. This skilled nursing care is noted by service, not by location.

Sub-acute Care

Sub-acute Care is normally required after an acute episode of illness or injury and usually follows acute care. Sub-acute care may require technically complex procedures and services for patients who are out of the hospital but still need specialized medical services. Sub-acute care can be provided by home-health agencies, long-term care units of hospitals, skilled nursing facilities or sub-acute care facilities. Many sub-acute facilities and services may be located in a skilled nursing facility.


A thin membrane inside the joint capsule.

Synovial fluid

A fluid that lubricates the joint and keeps the cartilage smooth and healthy.

Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)

A protein produced by white blood cells as means of controlling disease and breaking down developing cancer cells, or neoplasms. As a side effect, this defense mechanism can cause inflammation in the body and may trigger conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Wegener’s Granulomatosis

Wegener’s granulomatosis is characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels, which in turn interferes with normal blood flow. The condition can cause damage to internal organs in the body, but affects mainly the respiratory tract: the sinuses, nose, trachea and lungs. Wegener’s can also affect the kidneys. Wegener’s can strike men and women of any age. It is more prevalent in Caucasians than in African Americans.

X-ray absorptiometry (DXA)

A test used for measuring bone density

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