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Understanding arthritis

Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation in a joint. In the UK, around 10 million people have arthritis. It affects people of all ages, including children.

The two most common types of arthritis are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting around 8 million people.

It often develops in people who are over 50 years of age. However, it can occur at any age as a result of an injury or another joint-related condition.

Osteoarthritis initially affects the smooth cartilage lining of the joint. This makes movement more difficult than usual, leading to pain and stiffness. The cartilage lining of the joint can then thin and tissues within the joint can become more active. This can then lead to swelling and the formation of bony spurs, called osteophytes.

In osteoarthritis, the cartilage (connective tissue) between the bones gradually erodes, causing bone in the joints to rub together. The joints that are most commonly affected are those in the hands, spine, knees and hips.

Rheumatoid arthritis

In the UK, rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 400,000 people. It often starts when a person is between 40 and 50 years old. Women are three times more likely to be affected than men.

Rheumatoid and osteoarthritis are two different conditions. Rheumatoid osteoarthritis occurs when the body's immune system targets affected joints, which leads to pain and swelling.

Symptoms of arthritis
The symptoms of arthritis you experience will vary depending on the type you have. This is why it's important to have an accurate diagnosis if you have:

• joint pain, tenderness and stiffness
• inflammation in and around the joints
• restricted movement of the joints
• warm, red skin over the affected joint
• weakness and muscle wasting

Arthritis and children:
Arthritis is often associated with older people, but it can also affect children. In the UK, about 15,000 children and young people are affected by arthritis.

Most types of childhood arthritis are known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). JIA causes pain and inflammation in one or more joints for at least six weeks. Although the exact cause of JIA is unknown, the symptoms often improve as a child gets older, meaning they can lead a normal life.

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Treating arthritis:
There's no cure for arthritis, but there are many treatments that can help slow down the condition.

For osteoarthritis, painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids are often prescribed.

In severe cases, the following surgical procedures may be recommended:

• arthroplasty (joint replacement)
• arthodesis (joint fusion)
• osteotomy (where a bone is cut and re-aligned).

In treating rheumatoid arthritis, the aim is to slow down the condition's progress and minimise damage to the joints. Recommended treatments include:

• analgesics (painkillers)
• disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
• physiotherapy
• regular exercise.

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