18 October 2019

Here's what women of every age should know about arthritis

The biggest misconception is that arthritis is for old people.

Joint pain, swelling and stiffness are often associated with either working out too much or arthritis. The biggest misconception is that arthritis is for old people, but this is far from the truth. Adapting to a chronic condition can feel both daunting and unfair. There are more than 100 types of arthritis and related conditions.

The word arthritis means inflammation in the joint (arth means joint and itis means inflammation). If you have arthritis, it’s best to take steps to protect your joints from ongoing pain and permanent damage caused by uncontrolled inflammation.

Women’s Health spoke to rheumatologist and specialist physician Dr Rehana Bhorat. According to Dr Bhorat, there are different types of joint disease, but arthritis can broadly be classified into two main groups: degenerative and inflammatory arthritis.

The most common type of arthritis…

“The most common joints involved in osteoarthritis include the knees, hips, hands and spine. The pattern of which joints involved is also often determined by genetics. Because we can’t grow cartilage, there are no specific treatments to prevent cartilage loss in osteoarthritis,” says Dr Bhorat.Degenerative arthritis is called osteoarthritis. “Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and occurs because of ‘wear and tear’ of the cartilage in the joint. Although the development of osteoarthritis is genetically determined, the risk increases as we get older,” she says. Osteoarthritis can be caused or worsened by trauma to the joint, such as a car accident, sporting injury or with repetitive strain on the joint (think: high-impact sports or certain occupations).

READ MORE: Everything You Really Need To Know About Rheumatoid Arthritis

Inflammatory arthritis is a broad term for various forms of arthritis where there is severe inflammation in the joint. Dr Bhorat says gout is inflammatory arthritis, but it doesn’t occur in pre-menopausal women. “This means that one’s own immune system starts to attack the joints. Because the inflammation starts in the lining of the joint (synovium), if treated early one will prevent joint damage and cartilage loss,” says Dr Bhorat.

The cause of autoimmune diseases is genetics — autoimmune diseases tend to cluster in families. But even though one may have autoimmune genetics, an environmental trigger is still needed to ‘switch’ the autoimmune disease on. “We don’t understand the triggers of autoimmunity well, but we do know that cigarette smoking is a trigger for rheumatoid arthritis,” she says. Other theories are that infections, hormones and stress can trigger autoimmune disease. Autoimmune arthritis is more common in women than in men.

The symptoms?

Symptoms of inflammation in the joint are:
  • Prolonged early morning stiffness.
  • Swelling.
  • Pain at night in the joints.

According to Dr Bhorat, the prototype of autoimmune inflammatory arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. This affects mainly the small joints in the hands and feet, but virtually all joints bar the lower back can be affected.

Treatment options

Dr Bhorat says pain medication and keeping supporting structures around the joint (muscles, ligaments and tendons) strong are critical. This helps to stabilise the joint, preventing further wear and tear. If severe, joint surgery or joint replacement may be necessary.

“There are many effective treatments for rheumatoid arthritis which, if started early, can prevent joint damage. These treatments include Disease Modifying Anti Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs) and the newer but very effective Biologics. If rheumatoid arthritis isn’t treated early and aggressively it can cause joint destruction, but this is entirely preventable with available treatments today,” says Dr Bhorat.

This article was originally published on

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

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.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules