There are more than 100 different types of arthritis.
Arthritis is where a person feels swelling and tenderness or pain in their joints. It may be localised to one or two joints, or over more.
Arthritis does not currently have a cure, but there is a good deal of help available to manage the condition.
In this article we will explore the six types of arthritis that are most widespread.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover in this article:
- Arthritis is incurable but can be managed with medication and lifestyle factors
- Some arthritis, such as gout, can be well managed by avoiding triggers
- Women are much more likely than men to to suffer from fibromyalgia and lupus
- Arthritis is most common in adults over 65 years of age
What is arthritis?
The common factor in all types of arthritis is the swelling and pain or tenderness in the joints.
There are many different causes or ways this can show up, however. Some conditions can affect other parts of the body as well as the joints.
These are some general symptoms of arthritis to look out for.
- Redness on the skin above the joints
- Tenderness of the joints
- Pain or deep aching in the joints
- Swelling of the joints
- Range of motion decreases in the joints
- Stiffness on waking, lasting around 30 minutes or more
- Pain when walking
- Joints may feel warm to the touch
Most people who suffer from arthritis will have osteoarthritis, it is the most common arthritis condition.
Osteoarthritis is mainly due to wear and tear on the joints themselves.
Cartilage is a thick, slippery substance that protects the ends of bones. It allows them to slip past each other easily at each joint.
It also acts as a kind of shock absorber for the bones and the joints themselves.
When this cartilage wears away or is severely damaged, bones can grind against each other.
This may cause a grating or grinding sound, and severe discomfort.
Damage caused by lack of cartilage
The lack of cartilage, plus the pain, can cause movement to become difficult or limited.
Bumps may grow on the ends of bones where the cartilage has worn away.
These are called spurs and can be particularly painful.
An injury, general wear and tear, or an infection can all cause, or speed up thinning of the cartilage.
Does osteoarthritis affect joints?
Joint injuries can also cause or worsen localised osteoarthritis.
The condition can also cause the connective tissues around the joint to become weaker.
Bones themselves can also be negatively affected, beyond the grinding. The lining of the joint itself does not usually become inflamed from osteoarthritis, unlike other arthritis conditions.
Osteoarthritis is most commonly associated with the wear and tear that comes with age.
Causes of Osteoarthritis
Obesity is now becoming a more common cause of osteoarthritis, particularly in the lower body.
The spine, hips, knees and feet are all most commonly affected by osteoarthritis.
This is because they bear our body weight, and are subject to the most load-bearing wear and tear.
Extra weight can exert more pressure on the cartilage, causing it to wear away faster or in particular spots.
This is most common in the knees as they bear a good deal of pressure when walking.
This type of arthritis usually comes on over a prolonged period of time – months or years.
It can become gradually more painful over time. Generally there is none of the associated fatigue or illness that other forms of arthritis can have.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease and there is no definitive cause.
Science currently believes that sometimes a bacterial or viral infection can be the beginning of RA.
The immune system then begins to attack itself, perhaps because it is somehow ‘muddled’ from the illness.
What this means: the body’s own immune system targets areas in the body as ‘invaders’, just like it would viruses.
What areas are affected?
This targeting occurs mostly in the joints, though other areas of the body can be affected.
In the joints there is a tough membrane wrapped around the component parts.
RA affects this membrane, causing it to swell and become inflamed.
If left untreated, the progression of the disease can lead to the wearing away of the cartilage.
It may even begin to affect the bones around the joints as well.
This bone damage has the potential to become severe over time without treatment.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
RA has some similar symptoms to osteoarthritis.
Stiffness on waking is one similarity, as is some warmth or redness in the affected joints.
However RA usually affects multiple joints, and usually symmetrically.
This means both left and right hands, both feet, both hips and so on. It can even affect the jaw and the neck.
This type of arthritis may also cause stiffness on waking, however this may last for some time.
This stiffness might possibly last the whole day during a flare up.
RA can also often cause extreme tiredness during an attack. It may even suppress your appetite.
Weight loss can occur due to this loss of appetite.
Psoriatic arthritis affects and inflames both the joints and the skin of those who suffer from it.
It can come on at any age, but is most common between 30-50. It is equally common between men and women.
Psoriasis is, like RA, an autoimmune disease which has no definite cause or beginning.
Stress, high alcohol consumption and type 2 diabetes are all potential triggers.
There are other potential triggers, such as types of medication and some illnesses.
Symptoms of psoriasis arthritis
Key symptoms of psoriasis are red or white raised areas of skin covered in silver scales.
Most commonly this appears on the scalp, elbows and knees, though may appear in other areas. It may also affect the fingernails with discoloration and pits as well.
Psoriasis is usually the principal condition. People who have psoriasis have a 10-30% chance of developing psoriatic arthritis later on.
Inflammation is again the cause of the swelling and pain in the joints.
If psoriatic arthritis develops, it can cause swelling in both the fingers and toes. It can also affect other joints such as the knees or the spine.
It may only affect one joint, or one at a time.
Again, if left untreated psoriatic arthritis can cause serious joint and bone damage.
Lupus is another autoimmune disease.
This presents itself quite differently to other types of arthritis.
Lupus is a long term type of arthritis that can be managed quite well with early diagnosis.
However, because symptoms of lupus can be many and varied, a diagnosis is not always easy to come by.
90% of people with lupus are women, and those of childbearing age are most at risk.
Black and Latina women are more likely to be at risk from the condition than other ethnicities. However, it can occur in people of all ages and ethnicities.
Symptoms of Lupus
Much like other types of arthritis, a common symptom of lupus is joint pain, stiffness or swelling.
However in lupus this might also present in the muscles. Rashes on the skin, particularly the face, are another possible symptom.
Fever, hair loss and extreme fatigue or exhaustion are also common.
Symptoms of severe Lupus range from memory fog and sun sensitivity all the way to heart, lung and kidney problems.
Much like some other types of arthritis, lupus usually presents itself in flare ups.
These flare ups might contain a selection of symptoms from joint and muscle pain, to rashes and fevers.
A flare up might last several weeks, or even longer, before symptoms start to fade.
Managing flare ups of Lupus arthritis
Advice to manage flare ups in addition to medical management is principally to avoid or manage stress.
Also, eating a balanced diet, and including plenty of gentle.movement as often as you can is key.
Wearing a high factor sunscreen and a hat on sunny days is recommended, as is staying out of full sunshine.
If you smoke, it is important to stop if you are diagnosed with Lupus.
And there’s more here on general arthritis care.
Gout is slightly different from the previous types of arthritis we have already looked at.
Generally, gout is confined to the foot, most commonly one big toe.
Usually an attack comes on sharply, causing great pain. This is accompanied by reduced mobility as it causes the foot or toe to swell up.
The intense pain of a gout attack can also impact mobility.
Managing Gout flare ups
The affected joint -which could also be knees, fingers, ankles or wrists- will usually be red and swollen.
Generally it will also be very stiff, and tender to the touch. Even once the intense flare up of pain has passed, the joint will usually remain sore or achey.
An attack will last between 3 and 10 days as a rule, even without treatment.
It is important to seek treatment as repeated gout attacks can damage joints and bones. It can even affect the kidneys if left untreated.
What causes Gout?
Gout is caused by a buildup of crystals in the joint. These crystals occur when the kidneys can’t process the uric acid you are producing.
This excess uric acid is most commonly associated with drinking too much alcohol or rich foods. Steak, seafood and beer are often triggers for a flare up.
Being overweight can also add to the likelihood of developing gout.
Some other medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and kidney disease can also raise the risk.
Key to reducing or eliminating gout attacks is maintaining a healthy weight, and managing food and drink consumption.
Alcohol and rich foods should be taken sparingly if these are known triggers.
Fibromyalgia seems to affect women almost twice as much as men.
While people of any age can develop this type of arthritis, it is most common from middle age onwards.
There is again no precise cause for the onset of this type of arthritis.
Triggers are thought to include giving birth, extreme stress, and traumatic events, among others.
Having lupus or Rheumatoid arthritis is also an indicator that Fibromyalgia may develop.
The condition means that people with fibromyalgia feel pain throughout the body, not just in the joints.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia
Other symptoms can be poor sleep, extreme fatigue and general mental distress.
Sensitivity to pain can be heightened among those living with fibromyalgia.
Stiffness throughout the body is also a common symptom, as is brain fog and depression. Headaches and anxiety are also associated with the condition.
In some cases additional symptoms can be reported.
These may present as hand and foot numbness or tingling. Also irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues.