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Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint.
In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis. It affects people of all ages, including children (see below).
The two most common types of arthritis are:
Osteoarthritis most often develops in adults who are in their late 40s or older. It's also more common in women and people with a family history of the condition. However, it can occur at any age as a result of an injury or be associated with other joint-related conditions, such as gout or rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness.
Once the cartilage lining starts to roughen and thin out, the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This can cause swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes.
Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bone rubbing on bone, altering the shape of the joint and forcing the bones out of their normal position.
The most commonly affected joints are those in the:
Rheumatoid arthritis often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men.
Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are two different conditions. Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body's immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling.
The outer covering (synovium) of the joint is the first place affected. This can then spread across the joint, leading to further swelling and a change in the joint's shape. This may cause the bone and cartilage to break down.
People with rheumatoid arthritis can also develop problems with other tissues and organs in their body.
The symptoms of arthritis you experience will vary depending on the type you have.
This is why it's important to have an accurate diagnosis if you have:
Arthritis is often associated with older people, but it can also affect children. In the UK, about 15,000 children and young people are affected by arthritis.
Most types of childhood arthritis are known 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, meaning they can lead a normal life.
The main types of JIA are discussed below. Arthritis Research UK has more information about the different types of juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
Oligo-articular JIA is the most common type of JIA. It affects fewer than five 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's a risk that children with the condition may develop eye problems, so regular eye tests with an ophthalmologist (eye care specialist) are recommended.
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 the symptoms of adult rheumatoid arthritis . The condition is often accompanied by a rash and a high temperature of 38C (100.4F) or above.
Systemic onset JIA begins with symptoms such as a fever, rash, lethargy (a 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. It can cause pain in the soles of the feet and around the knee and hip joints, where the ligaments attach to the bone.
There's no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow down the condition.
For osteoarthritis, medications are often prescribed, including:
In severe cases, the following surgical procedures may be recommended:
Read more about how osteoarthritis is treated .
Treatment for rheumatoid arthritis aims to slow down the condition's progress and minimise joint inflammation or swelling. This is to try and prevent damage to the joints. Recommended treatments include:
Read more about how rheumatoid arthritis is treated .
Read more information about:
Living with arthritis isn't easy and carrying out simple, everyday tasks can often be painful and difficult.
However, there are many things you can do to make sure you live a healthy lifestyle. A range of services and benefits are also available.
Many people with arthritis want to continue working for many reasons, including better financial security and higher self-esteem.
Improved treatment approaches have helped ensure that many people who are diagnosed with arthritis can return to work. This is particularly the case if arthritis is diagnosed and treated at an early stage.
You may find work challenging, but your employer should help you with the training and support you need.
Help is also available if your arthritis is so severe that you're unable to work.
It's very important to eat a healthy, balanced diet if you have arthritis. Eating healthily will give you all the nutrients you need and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Your diet should consist of a variety of foods from all five food groups. These are:
Read more about how to have a healthy, balanced diet.
If you're overweight, losing weight can really help you cope with arthritis. Too much weight places excess pressure on the joints in your hips, knees, ankles and feet, leading to increased pain and mobility problems.
Read more about how you can lose weight using the weight loss guide.
If your arthritis is painful, you may not feel like exercising. However, being active can help reduce and prevent pain. Regular exercise can also:
As long as you do the right type and level of exercise for your condition, your arthritis won't get any worse. Combined with a healthy, balanced diet (see above), regular exercise will help you lose weight and place less strain on your joints.
Your doctor can advise about the type and level of exercise that's right for you. You can also download useful free booklets from Arthritis Care and Arthritis Research UK, including:
If you have arthritis, it's important to look after your joints so there's no further damage. For example, try to reduce the stress on your joints while carrying out everyday tasks like moving and lifting.
Some tips for protecting your joints, particularly if you have arthritis, include:
The Arthritis Care website has more information and advice about taking care of your joints.
It's also important to avoid sitting in the same position for long periods of time and to take regular breaks so you can move around.
Read more about good posture and how to sit correctly.
If you have arthritis, carrying out tasks around the home can be a challenge. However, making some practical changes to your home and changing the way you work should make things easier.
Practical tips that could help include:
You can find more useful information and advice about living independently at home on Arthritis Care.
An occupational therapist can help if you have severe arthritis that's affecting your ability to move around your home and carry out everyday tasks, such as cooking and cleaning.
They can advise about equipment you may need to help you live independently.
Depending on the exact nature of your condition, your doctor may be able to refer you to an occupational therapist.
Read more about occupational therapy .
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.