Understanding what causes arthritis

Loosely translated, arthritis means inflammation of the joints. What causes arthritis is not easy to point out simply because the term ‘Arthritis’ covers more than 200 medical conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, post traumatic arthritis, gouty arthritis and so on. Each of these types of arthritis has specific causes.

That said, certain risk factors have been closely associated with arthritis in general.

Non-modifiable causes:

When we consider what causes arthritis, non-modifiable causes play an important role.


Diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematous are associated with certain genes. A study in Holland showed that those who developed rheumatoid arthritis show abnormalities in blood tests long before they develop symptoms like joint pains.


Although young people also develop arthritis, risk increases with age because cartilage, tissues and joints are less equipped to repair themselves in the aged.


5% of arthritic cases are gout induced and gouty arthritis is seen more commonly in men than in women. However, when it comes to other forms of arthritis, more than 60% of arthritis patients are women.

What causes arthritis (modifiable causes):

A study of causes of arthritis is incomplete without exploring the modifiable causes.


Being overweight drastically increases the risk of wear and tear in the bones and joints. Overweight people are particularly vulnerable to knee and hip osteoarthritis .


Medical experts agree that arthritis is a metabolic disease. Studies show that the intake of foods like red meat and an excess of sodium could be the leading causes of arthritis.


Stress alters the hormonal balance of the body. During such times, the body releases hormones like cortisone and adrenalin which weaken the immune system.

This makes it easy for microbes to attack the body. Pain is another leading cause when it comes to what causes arthritis. A study published in the Arthritis and Rheumatism journal in 2008 found that when pain is transmitted through the nerves, inflammation is spread through the nervous system from one joint to another.

Injury and infection:

Arthritis may develop as the result of previous injury or infection. Exposure to infection in a hospital environment or through implants could lead to arthritis. Exposure to gonorrhea is a major cause of arthritis in sexually active people.


Heavy physical labor, perpetual pressure on the knees through squatting or bending are associated with increased risk of developing certain forms of arthritis like osteoarthritis.

Even people in certain high level sports may develop arthritis although the specific connection between sports and arthritis is not clear.

What causes arthritis? (Specific causes)

  • Abnormalities in metabolism leads to gout and pseudo-gout
  • Genetics and aging play an important role in osteoarthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis in the US.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis, caused by aging, is the second most common form of arthritis.
  • An overactive immune system leads to certain forms of arthritis like the Lupus arthritis and juvenile arthritis

As can be seen, there is a lot of ambiguity when it comes to the definite causes of arthritis. However, modifiable causes of arthritis may hold the key to preventing or delaying the onset of the disease.

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