Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation within a joint.
In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis. The condition affects people of all ages including children (see below).
There are many different types of arthritis that cause a wide range of symptoms. Two of the most common are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
What is osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the UK, affecting an estimated 8.5 million people.
In people affected by osteoarthritis, the cartilage (connective tissue) between their bones gradually wastes away, leading to painful rubbing of bone on bone in the joints. The most frequently affected joints are in the hands, spine, knees and hips.
Osteoarthritis often develops in people who are over 50 years of age. However, it can develop at any age as a result of an injury or another joint-related condition.
Read more about osteoarthritis.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is a more severe, but less common, form of arthritis than osteoarthritis. It occurs when the body's immune system attacks and destroys the affected joints, causing pain and swelling to occur. This can lead to a reduction in movement and the breakdown of bone and cartilage.
In the UK, rheumatoid arthritis affects around 400,000 people, and often starts in people between the ages of 40 and 50 years old. Women are three times more likely to be affected by the condition than men.
Read more about rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms of arthritis
There are many different symptoms of arthritis and the symptoms you experience will vary depending on the type of arthritis you have. However, common arthritic symptoms include:
- joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
- inflammation in and around the joints
- restricted movement of the joints
- warmth and redness of the skin over the affected joint
- weakness and muscle wasting
Arthritis and children
Although arthritis is often associated with older people, it can sometimes affect children. In the UK, about 12,000 children under 16 years of age have arthritis.
Most types of childhood arthritis are referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). JIA causes pain and inflammation in one or more joints for at least six weeks.
Although the exact cause of JIA is unknown, the symptoms often improve as a child gets older, allowing them to lead a normal life.
The main types of JIA are discussed below.
Oligo-articular JIA is the most common type of JIA. It affects four or less joints in the body, most commonly in the knees, ankles and wrists.
Oligo-articular JIA has good recovery rates and long-term effects are rare. However, there is a risk that children with the condition may develop eye problems, so it is recommended that they have regular eye checks with an ophthalmologist (an eye care specialist).
Polyarticular JIA (polyarthritis)
Polyarticular JIA, or polyarthritis, affects five or more joints. It can develop at any age during childhood.
The symptoms of polyarticular JIA are similar to those of adult rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is often accompanied by a rash and a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above.
Systemic onset JIA
Systemic onset JIA begins with symptoms such as a fever, rash, lethargy (lack of energy) and enlarged glands. Later on, joints can become swollen and inflamed.
Like polyarticular JIA, systemic onset JIA can affect children of any age.
Enthesitis-related arthritis is a type of juvenile arthritis that affects older boys or teenagers. The condition can cause pain in the soles of the feet and around the knee and hip joints where the ligaments attach to the bone.
You can read more about arthritis in children on the Arthritis Care website.
There is no cure for arthritis but there are a number of treatments that can help slow down the condition’s progress.
Medication can help relieve the symptoms of arthritis. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended.
- arthroplasty (joint replacement)
- arthodesis (joint fusion)
- osteotomy (where a bone is cut and re-aligned)
Read more about how osteoarthritis is treated.
The aim in treating rheumatoid arthritis is to slow down the progress of the condition and minimise joint damage. Recommended treatments may include:
- analgesics (painkillers)
- disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
- regular exercise
Read more about how rheumatoid arthritis is treated.