Different forms of arthritis have different root causes, and accordingly have different risk factors. Osteoarthritis is often the simple result of wear and tear and can come about from any combination of physical activity, weak cartilage, age, and old injury, for example.
Many other forms of arthritis, on the other hand, are associated with autoimmune disorders, and thus have very strong genetic components while physical activity plays a less critical role.
Despite this range of potential causes, we can associate certain risk factors with an overall increase in the likelihood that you’ll suffer one or more forms of arthritis:
- Family history. If people in your family suffer from a form of arthritis, even one with a physical component like osteoarthritis, you’re significantly more likely to suffer from it yourself.
- Age. Most forms of arthritis become more likely to develop with age; even those with a genetic component may only reach clinical significance later in life.
- Sex. Your sex influences your likelihood of developing various forms of arthritis; overall, women are more likely to develop some form of arthritis, but various forms are much more common in men.
- Weight. Obesity increases the likelihood of developing arthritis, even in joints which aren’t affected by increased wear and tear with increased weight. Symptoms will be far more pronounced in lower body joints, i.e. each pound of body weight exerts four more pounds of pressure on your knees when walking.
- Injury. Joints you’ve previously injured are significantly more likely to develop symptoms of arthritis, or present with more severe symptoms than other joints in your body.
- Inflammatory illness. Any inflammatory illness, even those not necessarily associated with your joints, increase your likelihood of developing arthritis. One in three patients with inflammatory bowel disease suffer arthritis, for example.
The key to managing arthritis is early recognition of the condition. The sooner you identify the problem—and the specific form of arthritis—the better you’ll be able to mitigate and minimize ongoing damage to your joints.