Health encyclopaedia - Alphabetical Topic List

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Arthritis is a general term for a number of painful conditions of the joints and bones.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. Cartilage between the bones gradually wastes away (degenerates), and this can lead to painful rubbing of bone on bone in the joints. It may also cause joints to fall out of their natural positions (misalignment). The most frequently affected joints are in the hands, spine, knees and hips. Osteoarthritis mostly affects people aged between 40 and 60, it grows more common with age. Around 12% of people over 65 are affected.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the main type of inflammatory arthritis. It is a chronic condition identified by pain and swelling in the joints, leading to reduction of movement, and the breakdown of bone and cartilage. Affecting between 1% and 3% of the population, it usually starts when people are between the ages of 30 and 50, and women are affected three times more often than men.

Other forms of arthritis include ankylosing spondylitis, cervical spondylitis, fibromyalgia, systemic lupus erythematosis (lupus), gout, psoriatic arthritis and Reiter’s syndrome.

Arthritis is often associated with older people, but can also affect  children. This is called juvenile idiopathic arthrtitis (JIA), also known as juvenile chronic arthritis or juvenile rheumatic arthritis. There are three main types: 

  • Oligo-articular-onset JIA - only a few joints are affected, most commonly the knee. This type has good recovery rates and the joints are rarely affected in the long term. However, there is a risk of developing uveitis (inflammation of the eye), so children should have regular checks with an eye specialist (ophthalmologist). 
  • Polyarticular JIA (or polyarthritis) - many joints are inflamed, with symptoms very similar to adult rheumatoid arthritis. This kind of arthritis may continue into adult life; it may also go into a state of remission where all the symptoms disappear.
  • Systemic JIA - this affects the whole body and causes fever and rashes as well as inflamed joints.

The cause of JIA is unknown but theories include inherited (genetic) factors, or viral infections. When people who have had JIA as a child become parents themselves, the risk of their children having JIA is extremely small.