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What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a term used by doctors to describe inflammation within a joint, although there are several forms of the condition and each has a specific medical name.
Rheumatism is a more general term that’s used to describe aches and pains in or around the joints. Because there are many possible causes of these pains, doctors don’t often use the term ‘rheumatism’ and will usually refer to these problems either by a specific diagnosis or according to the part of the body affected. Doctors sometimes use the terms ‘musculoskeletal conditions’ or ‘rheumatic diseases’ to refer to a whole range of conditions that affect the joints.
Osteoarthritis (os-tee-o-arth-ri-tus) is a very common condition of the joints. It’s most common in people over the age of about 45, but younger adults may sometimes develop it.
It can affect any joint in the body. However, it’s most likely to affect the joints that bear most of our weight, such as the knees and hips. Joints that we use a lot in everyday life, such as the joints of the hand, are also commonly affected.
A joint is where two or more bones meet. In a healthy joint, a coating of tough but smooth and slippery tissue called cartilage, covers
the surface of the bones and helps the bones to move against each other without friction.
Rheumatoid arthritis (roo-ma-toy-d arth-ri-tus) is a condition that can cause pain, swelling and stiffness in joints.
It is known as an autoimmune condition. This means that the immune system, which is the body’s natural self-defence system, gets confused and starts to attack your body’s healthy tissues.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the main way it does this is with inflammation (in-fla-may-shun) in your joints.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects around 400,000 adults aged 16 and over in the UK. It can affect anyone of any age. It can get worse quickly, so early diagnosis and intensive treatment are important.
The sooner you start treatment, the more effective it’s likely to be. To understand how rheumatoid arthritis develops, it helps to know how a normal joint works.