Updated 16 November 2015

33 facts on arthritis

It's World Arthritis Day today. Even if it doesn't affect you, it probably does affect someone you know. Get a quick round-up here.


  • Arthritis literally means ‘joint inflammation’3a
  • There are over 100 different forms of arthritis3b
  • As many as 1.5 million South Africans could be living with arthritis4
  • Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the United States1d
  • Arthritis costs the United States economy around $128 billion per year1a
  • An estimated 50 million adult Americans report having some form of arthritis1b
  • One in five (22%) adults in the United States report having doctor diagnosed arthritis1b
  • Arthritis is more common in women (24.9%) than men (18.1%)3c
  • Over 10 million adults in the UK consult their GP with arthritis and related conditions each year2b
  • More than 6 million people in the UK have osteoarthritis in one or both knees2a
  • Girls are twice as likely to develop juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) as boys3c

Arthritis: the myths4

  • There is only one type of arthritis
  • Only ‘old people’ develop arthritis
  • Children do not suffer from arthritis
  • Diet can prevent or treat your arthritis (it can only indirectly help)
  • Disease modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) ‘poison the body’ 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): 5 facts you should know

  1. RA affects up to 1% of the population10 (approx. 500 000 South Africans)
  2. RA affects over three times as many women as men10
  3. The incidence of RA in women has risen since 19959
  4. An RA sufferer is twice as likely to die as a non-RA sufferer of the same age12
  5. Up to 40% of working people with RA lose their jobs within 5 years13

Osteoarthritis (OA): 5 facts you should know

  • Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis11a
  • 50% of all adults will develop symptomatic OA of the knee at some point in their lives11b
  • Osteoarthritis is not an ‘old person’s disease’11c
  • 94% of hip and 97% of knee replacements carried out in the UK are due to osteoarthritis2c
  • 60% of hip and 57% of knee replacement operations in the UK are performed on women2d

Arthritis and diet:14


  • Acidic foods, such as tomatoes, do not cause arthritis
  • Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, are effective in reducing pain and inflammation
  • Omega 3 fatty acids also produce an anti-inflammatory process in the body
  • Low fat and fat-free diets reduce antioxidant levels, which can aggravate rheumatoid arthritis
  • Prolonged consumption of Omega 6 fatty acids may lead to arthritic flare ups
  • Weight loss, if overweight or obese, can also reduce joint inflammation and arthritic flare ups
  • Arthritis sufferers should eat a balanced diet, high in omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and with sufficient lean dairy and protein.

1.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Prevalence of Doctor-Diagnosed Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation — United States, 2007–2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 8 October 2010.

2. Arthritis Research UK. Arthritis in the UK — key facts. November 2008.

3. Arthritis Foundation. 10 Facts About Arthritis. 2012. Available at: Last accessed: 26-09-2012

4. du Plooy, M. Data on file — supplied in response to interview questions. 26-09-2012.

                9. Myasoedova E, Crowson C et al. Is the Incidence of Rheumatoid Arthritis Rising? ARTHRITIS & RHEUMATISM

                Vol. 62, No. 6, June 2010, pp 1576–1582

                10. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rheumatoid Arthritis. Available at:

        Last accessed: 17-05-2012

                11. Arthritis Foundation. Osteoarthritis Fact Sheet. 2009.

                12. Arthritis Foundation. Rheumatoid Arthritis Fact Sheet. 2008.

                13. Arthritis Research UK. Arthritis in the UK — key facts. November 2008.

                14. Retief, I. Data on file — supplied in response to interview questions. 20-09-2012.

Read more:

Arthritis patients need to exercise more

Exercise and arthritis


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Arthritis expert

Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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