Arthritis is a broad term used to describe joint disease or pain. It is a commonly seen illness and affects an estimated 10% of men and 18% of women worldwide. It is one of the most common causes of long term pain and disability.

The symptoms can include joint pain, swelling, redness and limitation of function. There are different types of arthritis which may present slightly differently and may have other symptoms in addition to those above.


Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. In South Africa, it has a prevalence of about 55%. It occurs when the cartilage cushioning the ends of the bone wears away and the bone rubs on another bone, causing pain. This is more common as one ages, if one is overweight, and it may be hereditary. A previous injury to the joint on that side can also result in osteoarthritis.


This is a less common type of arthritis and includes rheumatoid arthritis (prevalence in SA 2.5%) , systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), psoriatic arthropathy and ankylosing spondylitis. Inflammatory arthritis occurs when our own immune system mistakenly attacks our joints. This can affect not only the joints but other systems, for example it can cause a rash as in Psoriasis. This form of arthritis can damage the joints if left untreated so correct and timeous diagnosis and management is crucial.


Infective arthritis is not often seen and occurs when certain bacteria or viruses cause an infection in the joints. Examples are Gonorrhea, chlamydia, mumps and it usually forms in one large joint like the knee or ankle.  It can range from a mild ache to a severe acute pain and swelling. It is most usually transient and responds well to antibiotics.


This is a well-known form of arthritis that occurs when the levels of uric acid in the blood stream are higher than normal and it builds up in the joints causing small uric acid crystals to form in the joints. This results in pain, redness and swelling.

The management of arthritis involves pain control, rest, weight loss and dietary changes. In addition, there is more specific management which varies according to the type of arthritis.

If you are aware of any persistent joint pains or aches, book an appointment to assess if it is indeed a certain type of arthritis and how best to manage it.

Contributor: Dr Susan Ford – Medical Doctor at FEMINA HEALTH

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