What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a chronic condition in which the joints become inflamed. The first sign is usually a feeling of stiffness in the joints, and as symptoms progress, the individual may experience pain ranging from mild to severe, as well as difficulty with mobility.
Roughly two thirds of arthritis cases are first diagnosed in adults between the ages of 21 and 64, and the symptoms tend to get worse as the individual gets older. It should be noted, however, that thousands of children are affected by arthritis each year.
What kinds of arthritis are there?
Most forms of arthritis have the same basic symptoms. The affected joints are stiff, sore and inflamed, and the individual may have increasing difficulty with range of motion. Everyone is affected differently: some people only experience arthritis in one or two joints, while others find that their entire bodies are affected, including the spinal column.
The most common kinds of arthritis include the following:
- Osteoarthritis: The ends of the bones are coated with cartilage – a tough, slick substance that enables the joints to move smoothly. When osteoarthritis sets in, the cartilage erodes until eventually, the bones of the joints are grinding together.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the membrane that encloses the joint. Rheumatoid arthritis initially causes this lining to become red and inflamed, but with time, the joint itself can become damaged.
- Gout: This form of arthritis, which primarily affects the lower legs and feet, results from a buildup of uric acid crystals. The joints in the big toe and other parts of the feet become painfully inflamed.
- Juvenile arthritis: Although arthritis is usually associated with ageing, it can affect younger people as well. Juvenile arthritis is an umbrella terms for arthritis in children younger than 17. Sometimes it lasts for a few years and then goes away once the child has finished growing, but in some cases, it can be a lifelong condition.
Who is affected?
Risk factors for arthritis include the following:
- Genetics: Individuals whose parents or siblings have arthritis have a high likelihood of developing it themselves.
- Age: Although most cases of arthritis are diagnosed prior to retirement age, the severity and impact do increase with age.
- Biological sex: Some forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, are more common in women than in men. Others, including gout, predominantly affect men.
- Injury: Individuals who have suffered an injury to a joint frequently develop arthritis in that joint. This can happen immediately after the injury, or it can take years.
- Obesity: Excess weight adds stress to the knees, hips and spine, and can add to the risk of arthritis in those areas.