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Arthritis is a common condition that causes pain and inflammation (swelling) of the joints and bones. The main symptoms of  arthritis include:

  • pain
  • stiffness
  • restricted movements of the joints
  • inflammation and swelling
  • warmth and redness of the skin over the joint

One in every six people in Ireland is affected by arthritis

The most common forms of arthritis are:

The characteristics of these two conditions are discussed below. Other types of arthritis are listed in the box, below left.

What is osteoarthritis?

The majority of people over 55 in Ireland have x ray evidence of osteoarthritis at some joint in their body.However,it can develop at any age as a result of an injury or another joint-related condition

In people affected by osteoarthritis, the cartilage (connective tissue) between their bones gradually wastes away (degenerates), leading to painful rubbing of bone on bone in the joints. The most frequently affected joints are in the:

  • hands
  • spine
  • knees
  • hips

Osteoarthritis often develops in people who are over 50 years of age. However, it can develop at any age as a result of an injury or another joint-related condition.

The cause of osteoarthritis is not fully understood. One theory is that some people are genetically predisposed to developing osteoarthritis, which means that they have an increased likelihood of inheriting it from their parents. However, this theory has not yet been proven.

See the A-Z topic about osteoarthritis for more information and advice about the condition.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is a more severe, but less common, form of arthritis than osteoarthritis. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the affected joints, causing pain and swelling to occur. This can lead to a reduction in movement and the breakdown of bone and cartilage. Women are three times more likely to be affected by the condition than men.

Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by a fault in the immune system (the body’s natural defence against illness and infection) that makes the body attack its own tissues. The fault may be inherited genetically (passed on from a family member).

See the A-Z topic about rheumatoid arthritis for more information and advice about the condition.

Arthritis and children

Arthritis is often associated with older people, but sometimes it can also affect children. This is known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). However, JIA is uncommon, affecting about one in 1,000 children.

The main types of JIA are discussed briefly below.

Oligo-articular JIA

Oligo-articular JIA is the most common type of JIA. It affects four or fewer joints in the body, most commonly in the knees, ankles and wrists.
Oligo-articular JIA has good recovery rates and long-term effects are rare.

However, there is a risk that children with the condition may develop eye problems, so it is advised that they should have regular eye checks with an eye care specialist (ophthalmologist).

Polyarticular JIA (or polyarthritis)

Polyarticular JIA (or polyarthritis) is type of JIA that affects five or more joints. It can develop at any age during childhood.

The symptoms of polyarticular JIA are similar to those of adult rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is often accompanied by a rash and a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above.

Systemic onset JIA

Systemic onset JIA begins with symptoms such as a fever, rash, lethargy (a lack of energy) and enlarged glands. Later on, joints may become swollen and inflamed. Like polyarticular JIA, systemic onset JIA can affect children of any age.

Enthesitis-related arthritis

Enthesitis-related arthritis is a type of juvenile arthritis that affects older boys or teenagers. The condition can cause pain in the soles of the feet and around the knee and hip joints, where the ligaments attach to the bone.


There is no cure for arthritis, but there are a number of treatments that can help to slow down the condition’s progress. Medication can help to relieve the symptoms of arthritis and, in severe cases, surgery may be recommended.

For osteoarthritis, analgesics (painkillers), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and corticosteroidsare often prescribed. In very severe cases, surgical procedures may be recommended such as:

  • arthroplasty (joint replacement therapy
  • arthodesis (joint fusion)
  • osteotomy (the addition or removal of bone)

See the A-Z topic about Osteoarthritis – treatment for more information about how the condition is treated.

In treating rheumatoid arthritis, the aim is to slow down the condition’s progress and minimise joint damage. Treatments that may be recommended for rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • analgesics (painkillers)
  • disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • physiotherapy
  • regular exercise

See the A-Z topic about Rheumatoid arthritis – treatment for more information about how the condition is treated.

Support groups

Arthritis Ireland


Joints are the connection point between two bones that allow movement.
The spine supports the skeleton and surrounds and protects the delicate spinal cord and nerves. It is made up of 33 bones called the vertebrae.
Pain is an unpleasant physical or emotional feeling that your body produces as a warning sign that it has been damaged.
Inflammation is the body’s response to infection, irritation or injury, which causes redness, swelling, pain and sometimes a feeling of heat in the affected area.
Chronic usually means a condition that continues for a long time or keeps coming back.

Useful Links

Arthritis Ireland


Other types of arthritis

There are over 200 different types of rheumatic diseases (conditions that cause aches and pains in a person’s bones, joints and muscles).

Some of the most common types of arthritis include:

  • ankylosing spondylitis– a chronic (long-term) type of arthritis that affects the bones, muscles and ligaments of the spine
  • cervical spondylitis – also known as degenerative osteoarthritis, cervical spondylitis affects the joints and bones in the neck
  • fibromyalgia – a condition that causes pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons, as well as all over the body
  • lupus – a chronic (long-term) condition that causes inflammation in the body’s tissues
  • gout – a type of arthritis that usually affects the big toe, but can develop in any joint in the body
  • psoriatic arthritis- joint inflammation that affects people with the skin condition, psoriasis
  • reactive arthritis – can cause inflammation of the joints, eyes, and urethra (the tube that runs from the bladder through the penis in men, or vulva in women, through which urine is passed)
  • secondary arthritis- a type of arthritis that can develop after a joint injury; it sometimes occurs many years after the injury
  • polymyalgia rheumatica – a condition where the immune system attacks healthy tissue, causing muscle pain, stiffness and joint inflammation
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