Arthritis FAQs

What is arthritis?

Arthritis (from greek ‘arthro’ meaning joint) is a condition caused by acute or chronic inflammation or damage in joints. Generally arthritis causes pain and stiffness with varying degrees of swelling. There are many different types of arthritis including:

  • Osteoarthritis - where the cartilage in joints gets damaged either by inflammation or mechanical wear;
  • Gout - an acute, inflammatory condition usually affecting one joint at a time;
  • Pyrophosphate Arthritis – very common in the elderly and often causing widespread inflammatory joint and other symptoms;
  • Rheumatoid arthritis - a chronic, potentially joint damaging inflammatory arthritis affecting (usually) many joints at the same time;
  • Psoriatic arthritis - a chronic potentially joint damaging arthritis associated with psoriasis;
  • Axial Spondyloarthritis or Ankylosing spondylitis - an inflammatory arthritis affecting the spine and pelvis, often starts in young adults;
  • Reactive arthritis - an inflammatory arthritis which occurs after certain infections;
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (‘lupus’) - a condition characterised by inflammation which can affect any part of the body. It typically occurs in young women and can vary in severity from mild to severe;
  • Septic arthritis – joint infection, which is relatively rare;

How common is arthritis?

Arthritis affects up to 16 million people in the UK and costs the NHS and social services (i.e. UK taxpayer) about £5.7 billion a year. About 700,000 people in the UK have the most severe type of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Who gets arthritis?

Arthritis affects people of all ages, even sometimes children. The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis (OA) oc-curs in people over the age of 50. The more severe types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can start in middle age. If some types of arthritis are not treated promptly they can affect someone’s ability to work and live their daily lives. Women are more likely to get arthritis than men.

What causes arthritis?

There is no single cause. The most common form, osteoarthritis (OA) often runs in families, particularly the females. So if you are a woman over 50 years of age with a Mum who has OA, you are more likely to get it too. It can also be caused by serious injury of a joint (e.g. fracture or dislocation) or damage resulting from inflammation arthritis. The other types of inflammation arthritis including rheumatoid (RA) are caused by the body’s immune system attacking the joints.

Can arthritis be treated?

Yes. Each type of arthritis is treated in different ways. In recent years there have been many advances in the treatment of arthritis. With the inflammatory arthritis types, like RA, as long as treatment is started early enough it should be possible to prevent joint damage and keep people active and in work.