Arthritis in young adults is very much possible. Let’s talk about the potential causes below.
In this article:
Arthritis in Young Adults: Causes and Types
Not Just an Old Person’s Disease
There is an existing misconception that arthritis is entirely a consequence of aging and only happens to the elderly, but statistics show otherwise.
Based on the data of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while it’s more common among older adults of 65 years and above, it can happen to people of all ages.
In fact, 7% of doctor-diagnosed arthritis in the US is in the age group of 18-44. It can even happen to children below 16 years old.
Such misbelief can be attributed to the fact that the risk of developing osteoarthritis, the most common type, increases as we age. Moreover, many people also confuse osteoarthritis with osteoporosis, another condition where the elderly are more at risk.
Yes, the risk of developing most types of arthritis rises with age but that isn’t the sole contributing factor.
What Causes Arthritis in Young Adults?
Over the years the term “arthritis” has been used as an informal way of referring to joint pain or joint conditions. Arthritis is not a single illness but a group of over 100 types of joint diseases and related conditions with signs and symptoms including joint pain, inflammation, stiffness, and decreased mobility.
To better understand what may cause arthritis in young adults, we’ve categorized the different types of arthritis below.
1. Degenerative Arthritis
Osteoarthritis (OA), also known as the “wear and tear” disease, is one of the most common types of arthritis.
In OA, the surrounding cartilage that cushions the joints wears away. As a result, joint bones rub against each other causing swelling, pain, and stiffness.
What Causes Degenerative Arthritis?
One genetic condition that increases the likelihood of OA development is one that affects the body’s collagen production, the protein making up the joint cartilage. This defect can cause the onset of OA to occur as early as the age of 20.
Another potential hereditary abnormality is a defect wherein the bones aren’t aligned and connected properly leading to a faster wearing away of the cartilage.
Carrying extra pounds can put additional pressure on the hip and knee joints increasing the breakdown rate of joint cartilage.
Studies also link obesity and having an increased risk of developing OA in the hand. Researchers suggest that the surplus of fat tissues creates joint-damaging inflammatory chemicals called cytokines.
Cytokines Definition: Peptides involved in immunomodulation, hematopoiesis, and inflammation
Repetitive Movements and Injuries
Repetitive movements and joint injuries like ligament tears and fractures may cause osteoarthritis. Athletes, for example, may injure their joints, ligaments, and tendons repeatedly and speed up cartilage breakdown.
Jobs and activities that involve prolonged standing, heavy lifting, and repetitive bending may also lead to faster cartilage damage.
2. Inflammatory Arthritis
This type of arthritis is characterized by inflamed joints usually caused by an autoimmune disorder. Some of these include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
What Causes Inflammatory Arthritis?
Autoimmunity or Inflammatory Disease
Our immune system normally responds to infections and other diseases with internal inflammation. This is absolutely healthy.
However, there are cases where it can mistakenly attack the joints and other tissues with a protein called rheumatoid factor (RF). When this happens, the joints and even some internal organs are damaged.
In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system targets the joint lining called synovium. The persistent inflammation may breakdown the joint and permanently damage it.
In psoriatic arthritis, on the other hand, the immune system attacks the skin causing psoriasis and enthesitis or the inflammation of the connective tissue linking the tendons or ligaments to the bones.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis occurs in children aged below 16. It’s also caused by autoimmunity and may lead to joint damage, growth problems, and eye damage.
While there’s yet to be a definitive cause for the development of autoimmunity, researchers believe that genetics and environmental factors can trigger it. Smoking, for example, can trigger rheumatoid arthritis in individuals with certain genes.
3. Infectious Arthritis or Septic Arthritis
As the name suggests, these are forms of arthritis caused by an infection in the joint.
What Causes Infectious Arthritis?
The majority of infectious arthritis is bacterial. The most common culprit is Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that lives on healthy skin.
Infectious arthritis can also be viral or fungal. In most cases, it happens when an infection from another part of the body contacts the joint through the bloodstream.
Less common infections can also enter the joint through wounds on or near the joint.
4. Reactive Arthritis
In reactive arthritis, an infection in another part of the body triggers inflammation of the joint. Unlike the previous type, the infection is not present in the joint itself.
What Causes Reactive Arthritis?
Here’s a list of systemic infections that may trigger arthritis:
- Lyme disease
- Rheumatic fever
- German measles
- Infectious hepatitis
- Fifth disease
5. Metabolic Arthritis
In metabolic arthritis like gout, the culprit is a dysfunctional metabolism.
Gout can happen as episodes highly dependent on uric acid levels. It usually happens in the joint of the big toe but can also manifest in other joints.
What Causes Gout?
Inability to Excrete Uric Acid
There are people with high uric acid levels because:
- Their bodies produce more than enough.
- Their bodies can’t excrete it quickly enough.
High levels of uric acid in the body may lead to the formation of needle-like crystals in the joint. This causes sudden severe joint pain (gout attack).
Young Adult Arthritis Care
Getting diagnosed with a chronic disease like arthritis at a young age, although confusing and scary, isn’t a life sentence. Your condition shouldn’t stop you from living a normal life.
With the right advice and lifestyle changes, there are no reasons for you not to have a fulfilling life.
- Stay connected with friends for support.
- Stay active. Regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis as it helps in strengthening the muscles around the affected joints, improving mobility and reducing fatigue and pain.
- Eat a healthy diet. The Mediterranean diet is one of the most popular arthritis diets. It focuses on eating healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, fish, whole grains, yogurt, and wine to name a few. Researchers also suggest that omega-3 rich foods like sardines, salmon, walnuts, and ground linseed can help with inflammation.
- Keeping your weight in check to avoid getting extra stress from excess weight.
- Try arthritis supplements like the Body Protective Complex (BPC), which uses a protein sequence to help increase collagen synthesis, repairs connective tissue in tendons and ligaments, and manage inflammation.
Thinking of trying out the Body Protective Complex? This review might convince you!
Getting diagnosed as early as possible helps in better managing arthritis. So, if you think you may have the condition, consult your doctor right away.
Do you have any questions about the different types of arthritis? Let us know in the comments section below!