FAQs about Arthritis

About Arthritis
1. What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a general term for conditions that affect the joints or tissues around the joint. There are more than 100 types of arthritis.

Most types of arthritis cause pain and stiffness in and around the affected joint or joints. Some types of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, also affect the immune system and some internal organs of the body.

Learn more about common forms of arthritis in the Arthritis Types section.

Experts use different definitions to gather information about arthritis in the population. Learn more on the Arthritis Case Definitions page.

2. What are the most common types of arthritis?

The most common form of arthritis in the United States is osteoarthritis. Other common types of arthritis include rheumatoid arthritisgout, and fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is included in arthritis for public health purposes.

3. What are the symptoms of arthritis?

Different types of arthritis have different symptoms. Pain and stiffness in and around one or more joints are common symptoms for most types of arthritis. Depending on the type of arthritis, symptoms can develop suddenly or gradually over time. Symptoms may come and go, or persist over time.

For information about the symptoms of specific types of arthritis, visit our Arthritis Types section.

4. What causes arthritis?

Experts don’t know the causes of many forms of arthritis. However, we do know that gout is caused by too much uric acid in the body. Sometimes specific infections can also cause arthritis.

Scientists are studying the role of factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and environment in different types of arthritis to learn more possible causes and risk factors.

For information about known arthritis risk factors, visit the Risk Factors page.

5. Am I at risk for arthritis?

Certain factors make it more likely that you will develop arthritis. You can control some risk factors, and others you cannot. By changing the risk factors you can control, you can decrease your risk of getting arthritis or making arthritis worse.

Learn more about arthritis risk factors.

6. Are people with arthritis more likely to develop complications from the flu?

If you have a form of inflammatory arthritis, like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, you may be more likely to develop complications from the flu than most people.

Flu-related complications may include:

  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia

People with inflammatory arthritis are more vulnerable to flu-related complications because they have weakened immune systems. These forms of arthritis and some of the medications used to treat them can both weaken the immune system.

Learn about flu complications and warning signs to look for on the Flu Symptoms and Complications webpage of the CDC Flu website.

7. How many adults in the United States have arthritis?

An estimated 53.2 million US adults have arthritis. Experts believe that number will grow as our nation’s population gets older.

Learn more about arthritis prevalence on the Arthritis-Related Statistics page.

8. Can children get arthritis?

Yes, about 220,000 US children have arthritis.

Signs and symptoms of childhood arthritis may include:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Stiffness
  • Rash
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Difficulty with daily living activities such as walking, dressing, and playing.

Childhood arthritis can cause permanent damage to the affected joint or joints. Early diagnosis and proper treatment are important to prevent or minimize permanent damage. There is no cure for childhood arthritis, but some children with childhood arthritis achieve long term or permanent remission, which means the disease is no longer active.

Learn more about childhood arthritis.

9. Can I prevent arthritis?

You can reduce your risk of getting some types of arthritis by changing risk factors you can control. Risk factors you can control include overweight and obesity, joint injuries, and smoking.

Learn more about arthritis risk factors.

Diagnosing Arthritis
1. What should I do if I think I have arthritis?

Talk to your doctor if you have arthritis symptoms such as pain, stiffness, or swelling in or around one or more of your joints.

2. How is arthritis diagnosed?

Doctors usually diagnose arthritis using the patient’s medical history, physical examination, X-rays, and blood tests.

It is possible to have more than one form of arthritis at the same time. There are many forms of arthritis, and diagnosing the specific type you have can help your doctor determine the best treatment. The earlier you understand your arthritis, the earlier you can start managing your disease, reducing pain, and making healthy lifestyle changes.

Treating and Managing Arthritis
1. How is arthritis treated?

The focus of arthritis treatment is to:

  • Control pain.
  • Minimize joint damage.
  • Improve or maintain physical function and quality of life.

In inflammatory types of arthritis, it is also important to control inflammation.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, arthritis treatment can include medications, nondrug therapies such as physical therapy or patient education, and sometimes surgery.

Managing your arthritis symptoms is very important as well.

Learn what you can do to manage your arthritis.

2. What can I do to manage my arthritis?

Properly managing your arthritis can help you:

  • Decrease pain.
  • Improve function.
  • Stay productive.
  • Lower health care costs.

Self-management is what you do day-to-day to manage your condition and stay healthy. Practice proven self-management strategies to reduce arthritis pain so you can pursue the activities that are important to you.

Learn what you can do to manage your arthritis.

3. Can I exercise with arthritis?

Arthritis-friendly physical activity is good for people with arthritis.

Regular physical activity can:

  • Help relieve arthritis pain and stiffness.
  • Give you more energy.
  • Lift your mood and make you feel more positive.

Stay as active as your health allows, and change your activity level depending on your arthritis symptoms. Some physical activity is better than none.

Learn about physical activity for people with arthritis and CDC-recognized physical activity programs.

4. What should I do if I have pain when I exercise?

It’s normal to have some pain, stiffness, and swelling after starting a new physical activity program. It may take 6 to 8 weeks for your joints to get used to your new activity level, but sticking with your activity program will result in long-term pain relief.

Here are some ways to manage your pain while your joints adjust to your new activity level.

Tips for managing your pain during and after exercise

  • Until your pain improves, modify your physical activity program by exercising less frequently (days per week), for shorter periods of time (amount of time each session), or with less intensity.
  • Try a different type of exercise to reduce pressure on your joints—for example, switch from walking to water aerobics.
  • Do proper warm-up and cool-down before and after exercise.
  • Exercise at a comfortable pace—you should be able to carry on a conversation while exercising.
  • Make sure you have good fitting, comfortable shoes.

See your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain that is sharp, stabbing, and constant.
  • Pain that causes you to limp.
  • Pain that lasts more than 2 hours after exercise or gets worse at night.
  • Pain or swelling that does not get better with rest, medication, or hot or cold packs.
  • Large increases in swelling or if your joints feel “hot” or are red.

Learn more about physical activity for people with arthritis.

5. Does being overweight affect arthritis?

It is important for people with arthritis to maintain a healthy weight.

For people who are overweight or obese, losing weight reduces pressure on joints, particularly weight bearing joints like the hips and knees. In fact, losing as little as 10 to 12 pounds can reduce pain and improve function for people with arthritis.

At any age, low-impact, arthritis-friendly physical activity and diet changes can help you lose weight. Learn about managing your weight at CDC’s Healthy Weight website.