Types of Arthritis
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, ranging from the very common to the extremely rare. Many of these conditions share similar arthritis symptoms, such as joint pain and inflammation but they all have their own unique symptoms also. Below you will find a brief account of the most common arthritis types but you can read about them in more detail in the information booklets section.
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common of all types of arthritis. It usually develops gradually, over several years, and affects a number of different joints. The cause is unknown, but it does appear more in females than males and often starts after the menopause.
For some people the symptoms of osteoarthritis are so subtle and develop over such a long time that they are hardly noticed. For others, problems may worsen over a number of months or years. When the overall disease process finishes, joints may look knobbly, but are usually less painful. In some cases they become pain free and, despite their appearance, still enable you to carry out most everyday tasks.
Osteoarthritis used to be considered wear and tear arthritis, but it is now understood that there are many more factors than age and use that contribute to the development of osteoarthritis – including obesity, past injury and genetics.
Click here to download the Living with Osteoarthritis booklet for more information on this type of arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common inflammatory of the types of arthritis. In most diseases, inflammation serves a purpose – it helps healing and, when healing is done, the inflammation goes away. In RA the opposite occurs.
The RA inflammation causes damage – it can go on for a long time, or come and go. When it is active – known as a flare-up – you may feel unwell.
The body’s natural defences (the immune system) are part of the problem in rheumatoid arthritis. It somehow puts itself into reverse and attacks certain parts of the body instead of protecting it. This auto-immune reaction occurs mainly in the joints, but in a flare-up other organs can be affected. It is not known what causes the immune system to react in this way.
Click here to download the Living with Rheumatoid Arthritis booklet for more information on this type of arthritis.
Fibromyalgia is another of the more common types of arthritis that causes widespread and severe pain, aching and fatigue but affects the muscles, ligaments and tendons rather than the joints. It may affect one part of the body or several different areas such as the limbs, neck and back.
Click here to download the Living with Fibromyalgia booklet for more information on this type of arthritis.
Some people who live with the skin condition psoriasis also develop another of the types of arthritis known as psoriatic arthritis. It causes inflammation in and around the joints.
Psoriatic arthritis can affect most joints, but typically causes problems in fingers and toes, with pitting and discoloration of nails. About a third of people with psoriatic arthritis also have spondylitis – a stiff, painful back or neck caused by inflammation in the spine.
You can find out more about the condition in our Understanding Arthritis information booklet.
Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is another form of inflammatory arthritis. Its symptoms are centred around pain and inflammation in the joints of the lower back. ‘Ankylosing’ means stiffening; ‘spondylitis’ means inflammation of the spine. If left untreated the joints of the spine may become fused (bridged by bone) and lose their movement.
Click here to download the Ankylosing Spondylitis booklet for more information on this type of arthritis.
Gout is one of the oldest types of arthritis where crystals build up in the body and cause joints to become very painful. Once treated, gout is not a problem for most people. Gout symptoms are caused by uric acid crystals in the joints. We all have some uric acid in our blood but most of us pass out enough in our urine to keep down the amount in our blood.
When there is too much uric acid in the tissues, it can form crystals. These crystals can form in and around joints,inflammation, swelling – and severe pain.
Click here to download the Living with Gout booklet for more information on this type of arthritis.
Approximately 1,000 children in Ireland have arthritis. Most types of arthritis in children come under the general heading of juvenile arthritis (JA), or juvenile idiopathic arthritis to give it its official title. JA symptoms include inflammation, pain and swelling in one or more joints.
Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an inflammatory condition affecting the muscles in and around the shoulder and upper arm areas, buttocks and thighs. The cause of this type of arthritis is unknown.
Polymyalgia rheumatica usually starts very suddenly. The stiffness in affected areas usually eases as the day progresses, but often returns in the evenings. In contrast to rheumatoid arthritis the joints are not usually involved, though occasionally there can be an associated inflammation in joints such as the shoulder, hip and wrist. Very occasionally, the arteries supplying the head and neck area of the body may be involved, causing headaches and possible loss of sight. This very serious complication of the disorder requires immediate treatment. You can find out more about the condition on our Polymyalgia Rheumatica information page here.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus) is a disease in which the body’s natural defences (the immune system) are upset. Cells and antibodies, which are in the blood to defend the body against infection, begin to attack it instead and cause inflammation. Lupus is a systemic disease – that is, it can affect many different parts of your body.
Lupus may begin with an obvious, bad attack. It can also begin very mildly. Because it has symptoms like many other illnesses, it can be frustratingly difficult to diagnose. Often, other diseases with somewhat similar early symptoms have to be eliminated.
You can find out more about the condition on our lupus information page here.