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Arthritis is a common condition that affects the joints, causing inflammation and pain. The two most common types are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. We’ll take a look at these, along with rarer types of the condition and discuss the symptoms you may experience.

Arthritis symptoms

The symptoms of arthritis can be varied, it will depend on which type of arthritis you have and which joints are affected:

Osteoarthritis

This is the most common type of arthritis and it usually develops as you get older (over 40), although people of any age may be affected.

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include pain, swelling and stiffness in a joint. You may also be able to hear a grating sound when you move.

The cartilage of a joint wears down, making movement more difficult and as it progresses it can lead to bone spurs and changes in the shape of the joint.

It most commonly affects knees, hips and joints in your hands, but can affect anywhere, and the severity will vary from person to person. You may notice it is worse after you’ve been still for a while, like when you get out of bed in the morning.

If you have these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to see a GP.

Rheumatoid arthritis

This condition is caused by the immune system attacking the joints, usually starting with the outer covering of the joint. It can spread across the whole joint, causing it to change shape.

The main symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include pain, stiffness and swelling in the joint. It may feel warm to touch, and tender and be worse in the morning, or after you’ve sat still for a while.

The symptoms tend to start off quite mildly, and get worse over time in most people, but in some people they can come on very quickly.

Some people will develop rheumatoid nodules, which develop under the skin on your elbows, hands or feet. They are fleshy lumps that feel firm to touch.

You may also feel tired and irritable, and the condition can lead to depression in some cases, usually due to the pain and discomfort it causes.

Less commonly, you may also notice that you have lost weight, have inflammation in your eyes or in other parts of your body.

If you have stiffness in your joints when you wake up in the morning, and it doesn’t ease once you get up and start moving around, it’s a good idea to see a GP. Getting treatment for rheumatoid arthritis as quickly as you can is important, as your body reacts better the earlier the disease is caught.

Other rarer types of arthritis and their symptoms include:

Ankylosing spondylitis

This long term condition affects the bones and other structures associated with the spine. It causes inflammation, stiffness and pain.

Psoriatic Arthritis

This type of arthritis usually develops in people with psoriasis. Psoriatic arthritis symptoms include pain and swelling of the joints, which may lead to swelling in your fingers and toes. You may get pain in other areas of your body and the condition can also affect ligaments and tendons.

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)

This condition causes joint inflammation in children under the age of 16 and is more common in girls. It makes joints painful, swollen and stiff, and the child may also have a fever, a rash and lose weight.

It can also cause eye problems, such as iritis (inflammation of the iris) or uveitis (inflammation of the middle layer of the eye), which can be serious, so treating it early is important.

Septic Arthritis

This type of arthritis is caused by a bacterial infection. Symptoms include joint pain and stiffness in the infected joint, and pain when you move it.

You may also have a fever, feel very tired and the joint may become swollen. It is a serious condition, so you need to go to hospital as soon as possible for treatment.

Reactive Arthritis

This causes inflammation in the joints, urethra or eyes and usually follows an infection of the genital tract or bowel. It most commonly causes swelling and pain in the joints and tendons, pain when peeing, diarrhoea or eye pain and redness. You may only have one of these symptoms, but you should see a GP urgently.

Gout

A buildup of uric acid in your bloodstream can crystalise and cause swelling, pain and redness in your joints. It most commonly affects the big toe, although it can develop in other joints. Read more about gout.

Should I see a GP about my symptoms?

If you recognise the symptoms we’ve discussed here and believe that you may have arthritis, or you are finding it difficult to cope with the symptoms, it’s recommended that you see a doctor.

They’ll listen to you and get a good understanding of your situation. They’ll be able to provide an expert diagnosis that will take you a step closer to getting the correct treatment. Getting treatment as early as possible can help prevent complications in the future.