What Causes Arthritis?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

Arthritis is the name for a fairly large group of conditions involving joint damage and pain, and because there are many types, there are also many different causes. The condition may also appear as a secondary symptom to a variety of diseases, including familial Mediterranean fever (FMF), hemochromatosis, hyperimmunoglobulinemia D with recurrent fever (HIDS), inflammatory bowel disease, lupus erythematosus, Lyme disease, and vasculitis. It may also appear as an autoimmune reaction to an infection elsewhere in the body.

Arthritis is the term used for explaining joint damage and pain.
Arthritis is the term used for explaining joint damage and pain.

Osteoarthritis (OA), also called degenerative arthritis or degenerative joint disease, is usually caused by trauma, although there is some evidence of a genetic factor. It is the most common type and the leading cause of chronic disability in the United States. Osteoarthritis can also be caused by joint infection, and the risk of developing this condition increases with age.

Osteoarthritis is normally caused by trauma to the joint.
Osteoarthritis is normally caused by trauma to the joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that causes joint inflammation and damage along with anemia. The causes of this form are not known, though it is significantly more common in women, cigarette smokers, and Native Americans. It is also linked to the inherited tissue type major histocompatibility complex (MHC) antigen HLA-DR4.

An illustration of a healthy spine and one with spinal osteoarthritis.
An illustration of a healthy spine and one with spinal osteoarthritis.

Septic arthritis is caused by infection of the joint. It is typically caused by bacteria, but may also be the result of a viral, fungal, or mycobacterial infection. Common bacterias that cause it include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococci, Haemophilus influenzae, Neisseria gonorrhoea, Escherichia coli, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Salmonella, and Brucella.

Rheumatoid arthritis is more common among cigarette smokers.
Rheumatoid arthritis is more common among cigarette smokers.

Gout is caused by the buildup of uric acid in the joints. It may be a primary syndrome or secondary to conditions including diabetes, hemolytic anemia, hypertension, leukemia, metabolic syndrome, and renal disorders. Primary gout can be caused by a diet high in protein, fat, and alcohol, or by chronic lead poisoning.

A hand with osteoarthritis.
A hand with osteoarthritis.

The cause of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), the most common, persistent form in children, is unknown. There is evidence of both environmental and genetic factors, however. JIA affects both sexes, and onset may occur anywhere from preschool-age to the early teenage years. Ankylosing spondylitis (AS), another form of the condition that can appear during the patient's childhood, is a genetic disorder. It most commonly develops between ages 18 and 30.

There are more than 100 forms of arthritis, which can affect any part of the body.
There are more than 100 forms of arthritis, which can affect any part of the body.
Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


I have often wondered if arthritis is hereditary or not? I know many older people complain of arthritis, so I think this is kind of expected.

I just wonder if someone in your family has juvenile or rheumatoid arthritis, if you have a greater chance of getting it.


My husband is going to have both of his knees replaced in a few months because of osteoarthritis. He has worked construction for most of his life and this has really affected his body.

He is in quite a bit of pain every day, and is sure hoping the knee replacements will make a big difference. He has suffered quite a bit of trauma to his knees over the years, and along with age, they are just worn out.

He also has a lot of arthritis in his shoulder because of all the wear and tear it has taken as well. I know many athletes suffer from arthritis as they get older too. When you are young, you can handle the joint pain and inflammation better than you can as you get older.


@bagley79-- My sister has rheumatoid arthritis and she was told the earlier she began treatment for this, the better off she would be. Maybe it depends on the type of arthritis, or how advanced it is.

For her, the relief from some of her symptoms was worth any potential side effects. This can be end up being a very painful and debilitating disease, and she wanted to get on top of it as soon as possible.

I know that each person and situation is different, and can understand your hesitation about starting some of these medications. As long as you work closely with your doctor you should feel comfortable with whatever plan of action they have for you.


I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, and have not begun to take any prescription medication yet. I have been trying to hold off on treating my rheumatoid arthritis with this because of the long term side effects.

Eventually I will probably have to begin taking one of these drugs, but when I read about them I get kind of scared. So far I have been able to treat the pain with over-the-counter medication.

I have no idea what caused this arthritis. Nobody in my family that I am aware of has ever had this before.


I was diagnosed with RA in 2002 and it has been just a little over eight years now and I am still working. I think a lot of it has to do with the doctors.

I have had a good doctor and a lot of being able to work is the fact that I wil nor let it get the best of me. If i do give in to the RA then i feel that I am letting it beat me.


Cafe41- I just wanted to add that according to the Mayo Clinic people with rheumatoid arthritis have a more then twice the likelihood of developing heart problem as those without the condition.

Usually those with the disease are unable to work after five years of receiving the diagnosis.


I just want to say that anti-inflammatory drugs are used for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Celebrex, which is a leading drug in the fight with rheumatoid arthritis can not be taken with lithium, or any form of high blood pressure medicine.In addition diuretics should also be avoided when taking Celebrex.

Vioxx was another leading drug to fight rheumatoid arthritis but it was taken off the market by Merck after patients began experiencing severe illnesses such as strokes and heart attacks.

It is important to inform your doctor of any other medication you are taking before you take Celebrex or any new drug. The drugs may not mix well in your system and may lead to adverse effects.

If a doctor is informed of your current prescriptions, the doctor might be able to make a substitution for Celebrex in order to avoid potential problems.

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