You’ve been told you have arthritis. But what is it? Most people think it's an "old person's disease", but that’s not true, as you're now finding out
There are over 200 different types of musculoskeletal condition. “Arthritis” (from the Greek ‘arthro’, meaning joint, and ‘itis’, meaning inflammation) describes a family of conditions that includes different types and symptoms. This goes some way to explaining why doctors can take some time to provide a definite diagnosis – they want to be as sure as they can about which of the many variations of arthritis you may be experiencing, as this will help determine the best treatment and benefit you in the long-run.
Who gets arthritis?
The latest figures from the British Society of Rheumatology say that there are up to 16 million people affected in the UK alone, of all ages and ethnicities. So, this is certainly not just an “old person’s disease”.
What causes arthritis?
The cause of arthritis remains unknown at present, but scientists are getting closer to an answer all the time. As a result of the increasing depth of knowledge, arthritis treatment has significantly advanced. We also now know that the earlier treatment is started, the better the outcome. Good control of the inflammation, by taking medication as prescribed, helps prevent harm to your joints, and means that a positive, active and productive life is possible.
Find out more about different types of arthritis here:
This family of conditions begins before age 16.
The most common in under-16s. One or two joints are affected, most commonly knees. For some it may extend to an additional joint. It is also possible that inflammation of the eyes may occur. It is the most likely to resolve as you become an adult.
For most people this affects five or more joints.
This affects the tendons that attach the muscles to the bones.
Joint symptoms combined with illness – fever, rash and fatigue.
Statistics say that at present this is the second most common type of arthritis in the UK. Rheumatoid is an inflammatory type of arthritis affecting the lining of the joints which, if left untreated, may lead to damage to the joint itself.
It can affect any joint, and any number of joints. Some people may only ever experience it in one joint. For others it might move from one joint to another, while others again will experience symptoms in multiple joints at the same time.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? (NHS Choices 2008)
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? (Arthritis Research UK 2010)
Psoriatic arthritis causes inflammation in and around the joints. It usually affects people who already have psoriasis, a skin condition that causes a red, scaly rash, especially on the elbows, knees, back, buttocks and scalp. However, some people develop the arthritic symptoms before the psoriasis, while others will never develop the skin condition.
Psoriasis can affect people of any age, both male and female, but psoriatic arthritis tends to affect more adults than young people. People with psoriasis may also have other types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, but these aren’t linked to the psoriasis.
With ankylosing spondylitis (AS) you may have symptoms that affect the joints and possibly ligaments in your spine. For some, if the inflammation is ongoing this may lead to harm in the joints. Some bones in the spine, referred to as vertebrae, may join together, reducing flexibility.
However AS varies widely from person to person – you may have very mild symptoms which don’t affect you very much at all.