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The #1 Cause of Arthritis, According to Science

Everything you need to know about the inflammatory condition.

Everyone experiences discomfort or pain in their hands on occasion. For some, however, the pain is due to an underlying health condition. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are 54.4 million adults in the United States who suffer from arthritis, and an additional 300,000 children suffer from some type of arthritis. What exactly is arthritis, who is most likely to get it, and what is the #1 cause? Here is everything you need to know about the inflammatory condition. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Symptoms You Have That Might Actually Be Damage from COVID.


What Is Arthritis?

woman with arthritis holding knee

Arthritis is a disorder of joints where there is either degeneration or inflammatory changes in the joints, Abhijeet Danve MD FACP, Yale Medicine rheumatologist and assistant professor of medicine, Yale School of Medicine, explains to Eat This, Not That! 

There are various types of arthritis, explains Dr. Danve. Osteoarthritis is the most common type, and results from degeneration in the cartilage lining the bones forming the joints. The next most common type of arthritis is gout which affects 9 million US adults.

He explains that when the inflammation is responsible for the arthritis, the causes can include:

  • Infections like Lyme disease, Hepatitis C, Parvovirus, Chikungunya etc.
  • Crystal induced arthritis like gout and pseudo-gout (also called CPPD arthritis) 
  • Autoimmune diseases like Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis, Axial Spondyloarthritis, Lupus and other connective tissue diseases etc. In addition, there are several rare diseases that can cause arthritis.


What Happens If You Have It?


Old woman stretching numb arm, weakness of muscles in senior age, arthritis

Osteoarthritis as well as other types of arthritis can cause joint pains, stiffness and swelling, Dr. Danve explains. Gout typically causes flare ups of acute severe pain, swelling and redness of joints and patients can feel normal between two flares. "In the long run, arthritis can lead to chronic symptoms including difficulty in using the extremities, deformities and disability," he reveals. 

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How Do I Know I Have It?

Doctor checks shoulder joint x-ray image on digital tablet

Patients can have various symptoms depending on the type of arthritis, which can include joint pain, swelling, stiffness, redness and warmth. "Some types of arthritis are also associated with problems in other organs including skin, eyes, intestines, lungs and kidneys," explains Dr. Danve. Some patients with systemic autoimmune arthritis can also have fever, fatigue and malaise. "A rheumatologist will carefully evaluate the pattern of joint pains, examination findings, do x-rays and lab tests to arrive at the diagnosis," he says. 


Here Are the Top Contributing Factors

Obese man measuring his waist.

For osteoarthritis, the risk factors include old age, obesity, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, previous injury and joint hypermobility.

For gout, elevated serum uric acid is the main risk factor. "About 16% of the US population have elevated uric acid levels and some of these patients develop gout," Dr. Danve states. 

For autoimmune arthritis, genetic and environmental factors play an important role, but exact reasons are unclear.

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What Is the #1 Cause

Mature woman suffering from pain in wrist at home

While arthritis can impact people of all ages, it commonly occurs when someone is between the ages of 40 and 50, making age the biggest risk factor. 

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How to Prevent It

Feet standing on a scale.

While some of the risk factors for arthritis are not controllable, Dr. Danve notes that there are some things you can do to decrease your chances of getting it. "For osteoarthritis, loss of weight, non-weight bearing aerobic exercises, avoidance of smoking can be helpful," he says. "For gout, lifestyle modifications like reducing intake of excessive alcohol, red meat, seafood etc and loss of weight can be helpful. Stress management can help in reducing the flares of various types of arthritis."


What to Do If You Notice Symptoms

Doctor and senior woman wearing facemasks

If you think you may have arthritis, the best thing to do is seek medical attention. "In case of persistent joint pains, you should consult your primary doctor who will evaluate you and determine if you need to see a rheumatologist," suggests Dr. Danve. "Osteoarthritis can be managed by primary doctor or orthopedic surgeons, but for inflammatory arthritis, it is recommended that patients see a rheumatologist for diagnosis and long-term management." And to get through life at your healthiest, don't miss: This Supplement Can Raise Your Cancer Risk, Experts Say.

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more about Leah
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