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.

Young adults with arthritis may develop juvenile arthritis as children. Additionally, their symptoms may start in young adulthood. Getting an accurate diagnosis and the correct treatment can help.

Certain factors increase a young person’s likelihood of developing arthritis. Gender, genetics, and having excess weight all play a role.

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.

person holding their wrist due to arthritis painShare on Pinterest
Viktor Solomin/Stocksy

There are more than 100 types of arthritis. Some of the most common include:

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease. This means it causes the immune system to attack healthy tissue, usually in the joints and sometimes in the organs. It can affect multiple joints and a person’s overall health.

A 2017 study examining people with RA found that it affected 0.41–0.54% of the adult population. The prevalence increased with age, and the disease was more common in women than in men.

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.

Learn more about RA.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA), the most common type of arthritis, results from gradual wear and tear on the cartilage-cushioning joints. Anything that increases wear and tear on the joints, such as high-impact sports or having excess weight, may increase a person’s risk for OA. This applies to both older and young adults.

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 16% among people over the age of 15 years and 22.9% among people over the age of 40 years.

Learn more about OA.

Juvenile arthritis

Juvenile arthritis is arthritis that appears during childhood. It comes in many forms, but the most common is juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which is a type of RA.

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, 46% still had active arthritis, and most people still needed to take medication. Just 33% achieved remission without disease-modifying drugs.

Learn more about juvenile arthritis.

Gout

Gout is a type of inflammatory arthritis. It happens when there is too much uric acid, a waste product, in the body. Certain medical conditions, such as kidney failure and heart failure, can increase a person’s risk for developing it.

While gout is more common in older people, it can also occur in young adults.

A 2019 study found that from 2015 to 2016, 3.2% of American adults experienced gout. It suggested that gout may be a more serious risk factor of poor heart health in people under 40 years old.

Additionally, being diagnosed with gout as a young adult correlates with an increased risk of another gout flare-up.

Learn more about gout.

The symptoms of arthritis vary depending on the type. Across arthritis types, though, the hallmark is chronic pain, particularly in the joints.

Some other symptoms include:

  • pain, swelling, or redness near a joint
  • mobility problems
  • tension near a joint
  • fatigue (lack of energy) or weakness
  • depression
  • fever

Learn more about early signs of arthritis.

Arthritis is a common disease, and it affects roughly 1 in 4 Americans. OA, caused by wear and tear on the joints, is the most common form.

Although arthritis is less common in young adults, its prevalence is increasing. Athletes may be more likely to get OA at a young age because of the potential damage to their joints.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that between 2013 and 2015, 7.1% of people between the ages of 18–44 years old had some type of arthritis. This is a large age bracket, but it does indicate that nearly 1 in 14 people under 45 years old have arthritis. Considering arthritis is a condition often associated with advanced age, this is a significant number.

Young adults should be aware of factors that may increase their likelihood of developing arthritis.

Some prevalent risk factors include:

  • 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 options include:

  • 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 include:

  • 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.