What is arthritis?


Common symptoms of arthritis

Arthritis is a catch-all term that refers to more than 100 joint-related complaints. The two most common forms are osteoarthritis – which is the leading cause of disability in the UK – and rheumatoid arthritis.

Around 10 million people in the UK live with arthritis. Although it is often thought of as an age-related illness, some kinds of arthritis affect younger people.

How do I know if I have arthritis?

Common symptoms of arthritis include inflammation, joint pain, swelling, warmth around the joints, and stiffness.

People with persistent symptoms should consult their GP to confirm the diagnosis and discuss treatment options. It is important to receive treatment as soon as possible to prevent long-term problems such as joint damage.

Your doctor will suspect osteoarthritis if you are aged 50 or older, have joint pain that increases with the use of the joint, and experience only a little joint stiffness in the morning.

Rheumatoid arthritis is more likely if the symptoms persist for longer periods. Small nodules will also sometimes form under the skin around affected joints.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium around the joints, causing inflammation. It generally affects the hands, feet and wrists, with symptoms including throbbing pain and swelling.

Symptoms are known to ‘flare up’ periodically, and people can experience more general issues, including tiredness, fever and weight loss. The inflammation can also attack other areas: for example, it can cause chest pain if the lungs are affected.

Over time, rheumatoid arthritis can cause permanent joint damage

400,000 people in the UK live with rheumatoid arthritis. It can strike people at any age, even very young children. The causes are unknown, but women, smokers, overweight people and those with a family history of the condition are more susceptible.

Osteoarthritis causes symptoms including joint pain, swelling, and stiffness. Frequently affecting the hips, knees, hands, and spine, osteoarthritis can impact quality of life and the ability to carry out everyday activities. It is the most common form of arthritis in the UK, affecting 80 per cent of people over the age of 50.

The joint pain is caused by damage to cartilage that stops bones from rubbing against one other. Some people experience symptoms on a severe and ongoing basis, for others the symptoms are less serious or ‘come and go’.

The chance of developing osteoarthritis increases with age, obesity, a family history of the condition, past joint injuries, and the presence of other illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis.

How can I treat arthritis?

Although there is no cure for arthritis, it can be managed.

With an early diagnosis, followed by appropriate treatment, it is possible to slow progression and damage to joints. Symptoms can also be significantly reduced in some cases.

  • Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), are commonly prescribed to slow the progression of joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis. Though effective, they can cause side effects.
  • Arthritis charities suggest that exercise can help manage pain and maintain joint mobility. The NHS recommends that all adults perform 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five times a week. Each session can be undertaken in several short periods if joint pain makes exercise difficult
  • Losing weight can help with arthritis symptoms, as excess weight puts more strain on joints.
  • A healthy diet will help to strengthen cartilage and bone.
  • A diet rich in foods containing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients can lessen pain and reduce damaging inflammation.