It’s important to understand that exactly what causes arthritis depends on the type of arthritis that you have. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, although some are much more common than others.
Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly diagnosed varieties of arthritis and why they occur.
Osteoarthritis is the single most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting around 8.5 million people. It occurs due to degeneration and wear and tear in the joint. “Many people assume that their joint pain is just down to old age, but osteoarthritis can be treated, meaning patients don’t have to live with their symptoms,” explains Dr Tench.
Although it is more common in people over the age of 45, younger people can be affected, particularly if they are involved in sports which can accelerate wear and tear on their joints. The most commonly affected joints are the hands, knees, hips and spine.
In osteoarthritis, the smooth cartilage that lines the inside of joints starts to wear away, meaning that movement isn’t as smooth as before. Eventually, friction within the joint causes pain and stiffness, which are the two primary symptoms associated with arthritis.
Excess weight also places unnecessary pressure on the joints which can accelerate damage to the joint and make the symptoms of osteoarthritis worse.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a little different from osteoarthritis. It occurs when your body’s immune system attacks healthy cells inside your joints, causing inflammation and pain. Since it is an immune response, it often affects multiple joints at once with the hands, wrists and feet being most commonly affected.
It’s also most often seen in women. “Around 1% of the female population experience rheumatoid arthritis,” explains Dr Tench.
It usually occurs in peaks, with periods of acute disease followed by periods of remission. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis also experience other symptoms associated with their immune system attacking other healthy cells, such as fatigue and weight loss.
Although anyone can develop an autoimmune disease that is responsible for rheumatoid arthritis, you are at greater risk if you are a woman, if you smoke, and if you have a family history of the disease.
Psoriatic arthritis is another autoimmune type of arthritis. However, this type specifically affects patients who have a common skin condition called psoriasis. Psoriasis is characterised by a build-up of dead skin cells that cause itchy, red, flaky patches to appear anywhere on the skin. It’s not contagious.
It’s estimated that as many as 40% of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis. And just like psoriasis, the severity of the condition can vary. Psoriatic arthritis can also get progressively worse to the point where it causes permanent damage to your joints.
Anyone with psoriasis can go on to develop psoriatic arthritis, which usually first starts to cause symptoms between 5 and 10 years after a psoriasis diagnosis.
Fibromyalgia isn’t actually a form of joint disease, but as some of the symptoms it causes (such as chronic pain and fatigue) are similar to arthritis, some people with fibromyalgia may be recommended to see a rheumatologist — especially since it often co-occurs with other types of arthritis. The cause of fibromyalgia isn’t known, but fortunately, it can be effectively treated and managed.
Other signs of fibromyalgia include pain and stiffness all over the body, anxiety and depression, sleep problems, brain fog (issues with memory and concentration) and headaches.
While anyone can develop fibromyalgia, it is more often diagnosed in people who also have Lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
Gout is arguably considered to be a particularly painful form of arthritis. It most often affects one joint at a time — usually the joint of the big toe. It is another type of arthritis that can flare up suddenly, lasting for days or weeks before treatment is successful, and it goes into remission.
Gout is caused by a condition called hyperuricemia, which is where there is too much uric acid in the body. This causes acid crystals to form in the joints which results in arthritis symptoms.
There are a variety of factors that can increase your risk of developing gout. These include:
- Being male
- Being obese
- Using certain medications such as diuretics
- Drinking alcohol (the more alcohol you consume, the greater your risk for gout)
- Eating or drinking products high in fructose or purines
- Having certain health conditions, including congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes and poor kidney function