Is Arthritis Only Present In Older People Or Can Younger Patients Develop It?

Arthritis is a long-term condition that causes inflammation and pain in the joints. It typically affects older people, but it can impact people of all ages, including children — though this is less common. It can be concerning if you believe you’re experiencing signs of arthritis at an early age, but there are treatments out there. This article is going to delve deeper into the causes of arthritis, what the early stages of arthritis can look like, and how common arthritis in young adults really is.

What is arthritis caused by?

Arthritis is a general term for a range of conditions that affect the joints, surrounding tissues and other connective tissues. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the two most common types of arthritis, and each has a different cause.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK. It is caused by wear and tear to the cartilage in the joints. Cartilage protects the ends of the bones and prevents them from causing friction when you move. However, when the cartilage wears away, the bone will grind directly on top of another bone — causing pain and stiffness in the joints.

Wear and tear damage can occur over time, so osteoarthritis is more common in the elderly, but it may be accelerated by injury or other joint-related conditions.

Rheumatoid arthritis is another common type of arthritis (though less common than osteoarthritis). It is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the joints (synovium). This then becomes swollen and destroys the cartilage and bone over time. Multiple joints can be affected at the same time, and people with rheumatoid arthritis can develop problems with other parts of the body too.

Arthritis risk factors

There are several risk factors that can increase the likelihood of some types of arthritis developing.

Family history and genetics may increase the risk of developing arthritis. Some types of arthritis are hereditary — if you have a family history of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis, you may be more likely to develop arthritis.

With most types of arthritis, the risk of it developing will increase with age. However, this doesn’t mean that it can’t develop when you’re younger.

Your biological sex can also be a risk factor for developing arthritis, with women being slightly more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, and men being more likely to develop gout.

Injuries to the joints can put you at increased risk of developing arthritis as well. This is commonly seen in people who play a lot of sports and have injured their joints.

Another risk factor that can increase the risk of arthritis is obesity. Being very overweight puts extra pressure on the joints such as the knees and hips. When this stress is prolonged, it can cause damage to the joints and cartilage — leading to arthritis.

Early signs of arthritis

Early signs of arthritis can look different for everyone, but the most common ones can include:

  • Swelling of one or more joints
  • Stiffness in the joint
  • Aches and pains in a joint
  • Warmth and redness

These can get worse over time as the joint degrades further, but they may also stay the same for a while before worsening.

While these can be early signs of arthritis, they can also signify a different issue such as an injury. It is best to speak with a doctor if these symptoms appear.

Can you get arthritis at a young age?

Although arthritis is often associated with older people, it can develop at any age. Arthritis can even affect children and adolescents. Young people with arthritis are usually diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

Most of the time, arthritis in older people is due to wear and tear on the joints, but younger people may develop it for other reasons. Common causes of arthritis in young adults are:

  • Being overweight
  • Not being active and remaining too sedentary — this can be due to a job that requires you to be sat down for long periods of time.
  • Bad posture from heavy lifting or prolonged sitting
  • Impact sports
  • Joint injuries
  • Being extremely athletic and active — this is because the joints can become overworked and therefore damaged
  • Family history of arthritis at a young age
  • Having hip dysplasia
  • Diabetes 

Young adults' experience of arthritis can differ as well. This is because their symptoms can interrupt big parts of their life. For example, attending school or university can be extremely difficult, as can leaving the house every day to go to work.

How common is arthritis in young adults?

Around 8 in every 100,000 people ages 18–34 are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and 30% of osteoarthritis cases diagnosed are in those aged 40 or under.

Children under the age of 16 aren’t very likely to have arthritis, but around 12,000 children in the UK alone have juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

While it’s not one of the most common conditions young adults face, there are those out there who live with arthritis.

How is arthritis diagnosed?

To diagnose arthritis, an orthopaedic surgeon will usually perform a physical examination. This is so they can evaluate the joints for commonly visible symptoms such as swelling and redness.

They will also assess your medical history and check your family history to see if there is an increased risk of arthritis developing at a young age.

Once a physical examination has been completed, a referral for further investigation via scans may be provided. The types of imaging scans used may include X-rays, CT scans (computerised tomography) or MRI scans (magnetic resonance imaging).

These scans can allow specialists in arthritis to see problems within the joints, establish any damage and formally diagnose the condition.

What is the treatment for arthritis?

Typically, treatments for osteoarthritis will be guided by an orthopaedic surgeon. Treatments for rheumatoid arthritis will be guided by a rheumatologist (unless the condition is advanced and surgery is required).

Although there isn’t a cure for arthritis, there are treatments out there that can help to manage its symptoms.

Common treatments can include medication to help alleviate inflammation and pain, physiotherapy to improve mobility, and steroid injections to ease the pain. If none of these work, surgery may be the next option.

If you’re experiencing pain from arthritis, then do get in touch with us here at OneWelbeck for a consultation. 

Arthritis can be a very difficult condition to live with, and it can feel daunting when you think you’ve developed it as a young adult. If you are diagnosed with arthritis at a young age, then there are treatments out there that can help — so don’t suffer in silence. Reach out to us at OneWelbeck and we’ll be able to provide you with the support you need.

Arthritis In Young Adults

How OneWelbeck Can Help

Here at OneWelbeck, we have a team of exemplary orthopedics specialists, state of the art facilities and diagnostics, and highly competitive financial packages for self-funding patients as well as those with private health care.