Arthritis Causes & Risk Factors

Published: February 1, 2012

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What Are the Causes?

The primary causes of arthritis include viruses, bacterial infections, injuries, autoimmune disorders, and old age. There are over one hundred different types of arthritis, and each of these types can occur as a result of a different cause.

Arthritis can affect large joints and small joints. The pain might remain located to one joint, or multiple areas of the body can develop symptoms. Commonly affected joints include the back, neck, knee, shoulder, fingers, wrist, toes, elbows, and arms. An injury or illness can cause the arthritis to spread and become worse.

In general, degenerating cartilage is responsible for causing arthritis. Cartilage separates the bones and joints and facilitates movement. During routine activities, your bones experience pressure. Cartilage protects you from the wear and tear that this pressure causes. Over time, this cartilage becomes damaged or wears down. This process can occur gradually when arthritis results from aging and can occur suddenly if arthritis occurs as a result of a disease, virus, or condition.

Osteoarthritis is the type of arthritis that results from old age and normal wear and tear, affecting larger joints including the back, hip, and knee. The pain will begin as minor and become stronger over time. Your weight and previous injury can affect the severity of osteoarthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs because the body's immune system attacks its own joint lining and cartilage. The reason for this condition is unknown, and it can affect both children and adults. The most commonly affected joints include the fingers, knees, wrists, toes, and elbows. Within a few years, these body parts can degenerate and become deformed.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine and pelvis. Eventually, this type of arthritis can cause the spinal cord to become fused. This type of arthritis is an autoimmune condition. The symptoms of this condition are most prevalent among adult men and will start to develop before age 30. The condition is systemic, meaning that it affects the entire body. IT is unknown what causes anklylosing spondylitis, but the condition can produce painful and uncomfortable symptoms.

Other conditions can cause symptoms that are similar to arthritis. These conditions include osteoporosis, which causes the bones to lose density and become brittle, multiple myeloma, and fifth disease, which is an infection that produces red patches. This condition can affect people of all ages, including babies, children, teenagers, and adults. The symptoms can affect one or multiple joints, causing an aching pain that is similar to arthritis.

Who's at Risk?

People who place stress on their joints, cartilage, and ligaments are at risk. If you are an athlete, you may develop arthritis from your routine or as a result of an injury. If you notice that certain redundant motions are causing an aching sensation, you should go visit a doctor to evaluate your symptoms.

People who are overweight have a high risk of developing arthritis since excess weight places stress on the bones. If you are overweight, your arthritis can become more severe, and it can worsen quickly. Losing weight may help to slow down the progression of your symptoms.

This stress can result from an underlying condition or from a physical activity or injury. Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis are related to genetics, so a family history of rheumatoid arthritis is a strong risk factor.

Women above the age of 65 are at high risk of developing osteoarthritis as a result of low bone density (note: osteoarthritis and osteoporosis are two separate conditions. Osteoporosis is a disease that lowers bone density and increases risk of bone fractures).

Bacterial and viral infections can cause arthritis to develop or worsen. Certain infections can cause the cartilage between the bones to degenerate. Broken bones can also cause arthritis to develop, even if you broke the bone many years ago.

Repetitive motions can cause arthritis to develop. Many athletes, dancers, and people who work in industries that require manual labor are likely to develop arthritis. Some people can even develop arthritis from typing for extended periods of time.

Arthritis causes a risk of muscle atrophy and degeneration. Many people who are in pain may feel unmotivated or unable to maintain an active lifestyle. As a result, the muscles may begin to degenerate. If you notice that your life is becoming sedentary, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible to discuss a potential fitness routine.

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