Understanding Arthritis

What Causes Arthritis?

The joints of the body connect bones together, allowing you to move. When something goes wrong with the joints, you can develop arthritis. While there are many types of arthritis, some are more common than others, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Other types include gout, psoriatic arthritis, and reactive arthritis.

Different types of arthritis have different causes. Knowing the risk factors for the most common types can help reduce your chances of developing the condition.

What Is Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is a disease that causes the joints to wear down over time. It usually develops in older people but can occur in younger people who have an injury or a genetic defect in their joints.1

A common sign of osteoarthritis is joint pain. The joints might also become stiff, especially if a person has been at rest. Some of the joints most commonly affected include the:

● Knees

● Hands and fingers

● Back

● Neck

● Hips

The severity of osteoarthritis can vary from person to person. Some people might be hardly bothered by it while others find that their arthritis makes it difficult to move or go about their daily lives.

Osteoarthritis is more common in people over the age of 50. It also typically develops in women more often than in men.

What Causes Osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is most commonly caused by wear and tear on the joints. The shape of the joints can change as a result of repeated stress.

Some people might be genetically predisposed to joint damage due to weak cartilage. Others might develop osteoarthritis suddenly, following an injury to a particular joint.

What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

While osteoarthritis develops over time or following an injury, rheumatoid arthritis is a type of autoimmune disease. This means it develops when a person's immune system mistakes joint tissue for an invader. The immune system attacks the joints, causing inflammation.

When a person develops rheumatoid arthritis, they typically develop pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. The most commonly affected joints are the wrists, feet, and hands. Along with stiffness, swelling, and pain, a person can also lose joint function.

Over time, the immune response can cause enough inflammation that the joints become permanently damaged. The surrounding bone and cartilage can be permanently injured.

It's possible to control rheumatoid arthritis, through medication. Biologics help to manage the immune system's response and can bring the disease into remission, meaning a person doesn't have symptoms.

What Causes Rheumatoid Arthritis?

It's not fully understood why the immune system ends up attacking the joint tissue in some people. It's thought that a combination of genes and environmental factors can trigger the immune response. Having a family history of the condition increases the risk of developing it, but doesn't guarantee that a person will end up with rheumatoid arthritis.

Sex hormones might also play a contributing role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Women are more likely to develop it than men. In women who have rheumatoid arthritis, pregnancy often causes the symptoms to go into remission. Some women then experience a flare of symptoms once they deliver the baby.

Can You Prevent Arthritis?

While you can't always prevent arthritis, some of the risk factors for the disease are within your control.

Smoking increases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Quitting smoking can reduce your risk and has many other health benefits.

Gum health might also be a contributing factor to rheumatoid arthritis and people with a history of periodontal disease might be at a greater risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Seeing a dentist for regular exams can help keep your gums healthy.

Obesity is another risk factor for arthritis that can be within a person's control. Carrying extra weight puts more pressure on the joints. Being obese also seems to raise the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. If possible, losing weight can help ease symptoms and allow you better management of the disease.

If you're concerned about arthritis or have noticed stiffness and pain in your joints, your family doctor can determine what's going on and work with you to develop a treatment plan.

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1. What Causes Osteoarthritis?, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/osteoarthritis

2. Rheumatoid Arthritis, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/rheumatoid-arthritis

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