Causes and Risk Factors of Arthritis

In This Article

Table of Contents

There are 100 different forms of arthritis, each with its own set of causes and risk factors. The most common types include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and gout. Determining the cause of arthritis can be difficult since multiple, overlapping factors typically contribute to its development. Possible causes of arthritis include age- and lifestyle-related wear and tear, infections, injuries, and autoimmune conditions.

Common Causes

With each of the major types of arthritis, there are different causes and risk factors, but these are the ones most often seen.

Older Age

Older age is a major factor in arthritis as cartilage becomes increasingly brittle over time and has less capacity to repair itself. The development of osteoarthritis is typically seen to begin between the ages of 40 and 50, although it can start earlier in other forms of the disorder.

Arthritis can strike at any age, including in children. While more common in older adults, symptoms should be assessed in all age groups.

Injury

Previous joint damage can cause irregularities in the normal, smooth joint surface. Previous injury certainly plays a part in the development of arthritis of the wrist, where the complex bone and cartilage structure can be easily compromised by impact or compression. Other examples include arthritis caused by a tibial plateau fracture, where a broken area of bone enters the cartilage of the knee joint.

Infection

Certain infections around the joint, whether bacterial or viral, cause lead to the deterioration of cartilage or the formation of skin lesions that penetrate the joint and synovial membrane. People who experience a joint infection (septic joint), multiple episodes of gout, or experience recurrent staph infection around a joint run a higher risk of developing arthritis.

Autoimmune

Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and lupus are among the types of inflammatory arthritis in which your immune system attacks your own tissues. What causes this to happen is unclear and may be due to several factors, including genetic predisposition, infections, or environmental exposures. Your immune system is sensitized and makes antibodies that attack your joints and organs.

Gender

Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia are more common in women, while gout is more common in men. The reasons for this difference in risk is unclear.

Genetics

Genetics seems to play a key role the development of certain types of arthritis, although the association is still not fully understood. A family history can suggest an increased risk depending on the type of arthritis involved. For example, approximately 40 percent of patients with psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis have family members who have psoriasis or psoriatic arthritis.

Certain forms of rheumatoid arthritis are linked to genetic markers known as HLA-B27 and HLA-DR4. Variants in other genes may also contribute, including:

  • STAT4, a gene that plays an important role in the regulation and activation of the immune response
  • TRAF1 and C5, two genes associated with chronic inflammation
  • PTPN22, a gene associated with both the development and progression of rheumatoid arthritis

Gout is also influenced by genetics. It is a problem with the production and elimination of uric acid. Hereditary hyperuricemia, caused by SLC2A9 and SLC22A12 mutations, is one condition that impairs the excretion of uric acid by the kidneys.

How genetics can influence developing osteoarthritis is still being explored. A review found differences in heritability depending on which joint was affected. It was most influential for spinal arthritis (70 percent) and hip arthritis (60 percent), and less so for the knee (40 percent). It seems to be influenced by several gene variants and having more of these at the same time added to the risk.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

There are things you do that can increase your risk of some forms of arthritis, and might worsen the effects of other types. The stress you place our joints today can lead to the development of arthritis later.

Obesity

Obesity is a factor as it directly contributes to the stress a joint can be placed under. This is especially true for the joint of the hips and knees, where excessive weight can impact the joint directly and cause inflammation that gradually eats away joint tissues.

Occupational Hazards

Jobs and activities involving manual labor or repetitive motion can lead to joint damage and arthritis. As such, protective measures are often put in place to minimize damage caused by heavy lifting and activities that demand the constant flexure and retraction of a joint. Even minor repetitive movements like pulling a lever or pushing a cart can cause deterioration of bone and joint cartilage over a period of years.

Sports

High-level sports activity can lead to arthritis if it involves blunt force impact or results in damage to a bone or joint. Not only does this happen in contact sports, but also ones such as long-distance running that place persistent impact stress on a joint. On the flip side, moderate, routine exercise can minimize the symptoms or development of arthritis by bolstering the muscular structure around a joint, giving it support.

Smoking

Cigarette smoking increases your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. It can also worsen the condition and cause other medical problems.

Foods and Medications

In the case of gout, certain foods and medications can increase the level of uric acid, which can then cause a gout flare. You will often be given a list of what to avoid, including beer and foods high in purine.

A Word From Verywell

The development of arthritis is a complex and intertwined process, where multiple factors work together to lead to the development of this condition. Even in people who are at high risk for developing arthritis, or in those who have already developed it, there are still steps that you can take to prevent the progression of arthritis. This can help to ensure that simple treatments remain effective for as long as possible.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources