With more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions, the disease can be difficult to recognize. For some it comes on slowly and mildly, and for others it starts suddenly and can cause intense pain that surges within a few hours. Keeping the following questions in mind will help prevent arthritis.

1. Do I have arthritis?

There are a lot of people who think they might have arthritis, but for some reason they never discuss it with their doctor. Older people accept joint pain as part of aging while younger people with joint pain, swelling or stiffness may not even consider arthritis as the culprit.

The signs and symptoms can also come and go over time. Arthritis can cause “classic” symptoms, like joint pain, swelling and stiffness, or it may first cause health problems that seem unrelated, like fatigue or a rash. Early signs of arthritis might be mistaken for an injury or the result of “too much” activity.

2. Is arthritis common?

People of all ages, sexes and races can and do have arthritis. More than 50 million adults and 300,000 children have some type of arthritis, and it’s the leading cause of disability in the U.S.

3. Should I see a doctor?

Early diagnosis and treatment of arthritis can save more than joints. Some types of arthritis can cause internal damage to the heart and other organs.

If you are having joint symptoms and asking, “Do I have arthritis?” you owe it to your joints and body to find out. Most people start with their primary care physician and are then referred to medical specialists called rheumatologists.

4. How can I preserve joint function?

There are many things that can be done to preserve joint function, mobility and quality of life. Learning about the disease and treatment options, making time for physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight are essential.