Arthritis: understanding the different types and symptoms

By: Helen West,

Arthritis: understanding the different types and symptoms

Aching bones, sore joints...it's easy to dismiss aches and pains as just signs that you're getting older. But how do you know when your joint pain is something more serious?

The term ‘arthritis’ covers a broad range of conditions that cause joint pain and inflammation. There are around 10 million people in the UK with some form of arthritis, and it can affect people of all ages. In fact, arthritis is the most common cause of disability in the UK.

You've probably heard of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. These are the two most common types of arthritis, but there are many others.

These include gout, which is caused by too much uric acid in the body, and fibromyalgia, which causes pain in muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis affects around 8 million people in the UK. It is sometimes described as ‘wear and tear’ arthritis because it most often develops in older adults aged 40 and older.

However, it is also more common in women and people with a family history of the condition, and can also occur as a result of injury.

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, spine, knees, and hips.

It used to be thought that osteoarthritis was caused when joints wore out due to use and old age. We now know that it’s more complicated than that.

Osteoarthritis occurs when the smooth cartilage lining the joints gets worn down. We don’t know exactly why this happens, but the loss of cartilage means the tendons and ligaments have to work harder. This causes pain and swelling.

Osteoarthritis commonly affects the hands, spine, knees, and hips. Symptoms include joint pain; tenderness and stiffness in your joints; deformed joints or warm, red skin over your joints; restricted movement; and weakness and muscle wasting.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune arthritis. It affects an estimated 400,000 people in the UK, and women are more likely to be affected than men.

Women are three times more likely than men to have rheumatoid arthritis graphic

This type of arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system, which usually protects us from infections, starts to attack the joints. It most commonly affects the fingers and toes, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and knees. It can also affect the neck and jaw.

The symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are similar to those of osteoarthritis, but some people with rheumatoid arthritis find they have flare-ups, or periods where their symptoms are worse.

Symptoms include joint pain, and tenderness and stiffness in your joints

Others find that only one or two joints are affected at any one time, and that the symptoms seem to ‘move round’ to other joints.

Treatment

There isn’t a cure for arthritis, but medication and physiotherapy can help improve symptoms. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended.

There are also things you can do yourself to reduce your symptoms. Keeping at a healthy weight reduces the amount of strain placed on your joints. If you are overweight, reducing your weight can help reduce your pain.

Exercise can also help by improving your posture and flexibility. If you suffer from poor mobility, you could try some exercises specially designed for those with restricted movement, or a gentle activity like seated yoga.

If you think you may be suffering from arthritis or begin to notice symptoms, it’s best to speak to your GP.


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