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UK [1]

  • Over nine million people in the UK have arthritis
UK [2]
  • One in five of the adult population in the UK live with arthritis
  • There are 12,000 children in the UK with arthritis and approximately 27,000 people living with arthritis are under the age of 25

What is it?

Arthritis means 'inflammation of the joints'. The word rheumatism is even more general, and is used to describe aches and pains in joints, bones and muscles. It can affect anyone of any age.


There are over 200 different kinds of arthritis. The most common ones are:

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis. It can affect anyone of any age, though it's more common in older people and women. It can also develop after an injury to a joint - sometimes many years later. The hands, knees, hips, feet and spine are usually affected.

Rheumatoid arthritis
About one in a hundred people get rheumatoid arthritis. People of any age can develop it, but it's most common between the ages of 30 and 50. It affects three times as many women as men. It usually starts in the wrists, hands or feet. If it continues, it can spread to other joints and affect other parts of the body.

Ankylosing spondylitis
'Ankylosing' means stiffening, 'spondylitis' is inflammation of the spine. The condition affects more men than women. It usually affects the spine, shoulders and hips. More rarely, knees and ankles.

Gout is caused by uric acid crystals forming in the joints. It usually affects the base of the big toe, sometimes ankles, knees, hands, wrists or elbows.

Polymyalgia rheumatica
Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an inflammatory condition that involves many (poly) painful muscles (myalgia).

Systemic lupus erythematosis
Sometimes known as lupus, systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE) is a rare condition that affects nine times as many women as men and is more common in Asian and African-Caribbean people. Cells and antibodies, which usually defend the body from infection, begin to attack it instead. For most people, lupus starts with aches and pains in the joints. Lupus varies enormously from person to person and can affect any part of the body. When the disease is active (flares), it's rather like having a bout of flu.

Arthritis in children


Most kinds of childhood arthritis come under the general heading of 'juvenile arthritis'. There are three main types:

Pauci-articular arthritis
This usually starts very slowly at the age of two or three. The problem is limited to four or fewer joints that become swollen and painful. The eyes can also be affected.

This affects five or more joints. It can start at any age from a few months onwards and usually spreads from one joint to another quite quickly. Children often feel generally unwell and can have a fever or a rash.

Systemic disease
This affects the whole body and causes fever and rashes as well as inflamed joints. It usually starts in children under five. It is sometimes known as Stills disease.

Further information

Acknowledgements: This section has been developed with the help of Arthritis Care.

[1] Arthritis Care (2007) About Arthritis. [accessed 28/11/12].
[2] Arthritis Care (2007) FAQs. [accessed 28/11/12].


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