Most people may associate arthritis with older adults. However, it can affect people of all ages. Gender, genetics, and having excess weight can all contribute to arthritis developing in young adults.
Arthritis is a group of more than 100 diseases causing chronic pain and joint inflammation. Most types of arthritis, including osteoarthritis, are more common in middle-aged and older people. But arthritis also occurs in young adults.
Certain factors increase a young person’s likelihood of developing arthritis.
It is challenging to receive an arthritis diagnosis at a young age. But there are various treatment options available that allow people with arthritis to live full and active lives.
Read more to learn about how different types of arthritis affect young people, and about diagnosis and treatment.
There are more than 100 types of arthritis.
A 2017 study examining people with RA found that it affected
Because it is an autoimmune disease, RA also affects young adults. A 2018 study of 52,840 people, 10,568 of whom had RA, identified RA as an independent risk factor for certain conditions. It found that young adults with RA may have an increased risk of cerebrovascular diseases (CVD), such as stroke and coronary artery disease, and that the risk of CVD or coronary artery disease was 2.35 times higher in young adults with RA.
Because it happens due to gradual wear on the joints, OA is more common in older adults. A 2020 review of 88 studies found a global prevalence of knee OA of
Although juvenile arthritis sometimes goes away on its own, it may persist into adulthood.
A 2020 population-based study followed Norwegians with juvenile arthritis for 18 years. At the end of the study,
While gout is more common in older people, it can also occur in young adults.
A 2019 study found that from 2015 to 2016,
Additionally, being diagnosed with gout as a young adult correlates with an increased risk of another gout flare-up.
The symptoms of arthritis vary depending on the type. Across arthritis types, though, the hallmark is chronic pain, particularly in the joints.
- pain, swelling, or redness near a joint
- mobility problems
- tension near a joint
- fatigue (lack of energy) or weakness
Although arthritis is less common in young adults, its prevalence is increasing.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that between 2013 and 2015,
Young adults should be aware of factors that may increase their likelihood of developing arthritis.
- Gender: Most types of arthritis, including OA and RA, are more common in women. But gout is more common in men.
- Genetics: A person may have a higher risk for arthritis if other people in their family have the disease.
- Smoking: Smoking increases the risk of RA, and it can worsen symptoms in people with existing arthritis.
- Repetitive motions: Movements that strain the joints, especially the knee joint, can damage them over time. This can cause OA. Certain occupations, especially ones requiring people to be on their feet all day, increase a person’s risk for arthritis.
- Infections: Certain infections may damage the joints and increase the risk of arthritis.
- Having excess weight or obesity: Carrying excess weight strains the joints, potentially damaging them over time.
There is no cure for arthritis. Instead, treatment focuses on reducing inflammation and pain management.
Treatment depends on the type of arthritis a person has. For example, drugs to reduce uric acid may help relieve the pain of gout. In general, though, treatment
- Lifestyle changes: Some changes, such as quitting smoking, eliminate factors that make arthritis worse. Reaching a moderate weight can decrease stress on the joints, while eating a healthy and balanced diet may ease inflammation.
- Anti-inflammatory and non-opioid medications: These can help with flare-ups and ease pain.
- Disease-modifying drugs: These are drugs that can reduce inflammation and slow the progression of arthritis.
- Exercise: This can help ease the pain of arthritis. Some people find that physical therapy helps them find new and healthy ways to move their bodies.
Living with arthritis is difficult regardless of age. But being a young adult surrounded by friends without pain or mobility restrictions can be frustrating.
Some strategies that may help a person cope
- Joining a support group: If arthritis causes depression, anxiety, or severe stress, a person could consider working with a therapist who specializes in chronic illness.
- Trying medication management options: Contact a doctor to discuss new options. Some people need to experiment with different medications before they find one that works for their needs.
- Talking with loved ones: Suggest ways they can accommodate the person and help them feel more included.
- Asking for disability accommodations: The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to help people with disabilities do their jobs.
Arthritis affects people of all ages. But because many people see it as an older person’s disease, young people with arthritis may struggle to find support, wait longer for an accurate diagnosis, and feel misunderstood.
While there is no cure for most forms of arthritis, treatment can help, and may even send the disease into remission, allowing a person to live symptom-free.
The right combination of medical care, psychological support, advocacy, and self-care can improve a young person’s quality of life.