What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a name for a group of conditions affecting the joints. These conditions cause damage to the joints, usually resulting in pain and stiffness. Arthritis can affect many different parts of the joint and nearly every joint in the body.

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Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a condition that mainly affects the spine. The joints of the neck, back and pelvis become inflamed, causing pain and stiffness. The sacroiliac joints are commonly affected in AS. These joints connect the base of your spine (sacrum) to your pelvis. Other joints, such as the hips and shoulders, can also be involved. AS can also affect other parts of the body, such as the eyes, skin, bowel and lungs. The symptoms of AS usually begin between the ages of 15 and 45 years.

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Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a name given to a common group of symptoms marked by generalised pain and muscle stiffness. These symptoms can be felt in all different areas of the body. Extreme fatigue (tiredness) and sleep problems are also common in fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia does not cause major inflammation or damage to the painful areas, but seems more to be due to an over active pain system. Fibromyalgia is different to polymyalgia rheumatica, a type of arthritis in which symptoms are felt more in the muscles.

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Gout

Gout is a common and painful condition that affects the joints. Small crystals form in and around the joint, causing inflammation, pain and swelling. These crystals are made of one of the body’s normal waste products, uric acid. Normally the body rids itself of extra uric acid through the kidneys into the urine. However, this does not happen fast enough in people with gout. This causes uric acid levels to build up and the crystals to form.

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Haemochromatosis and Haemochromatotic arthritis

Haemochromatosis is a condition caused by a build up of iron in your body. People with haemochromatosis absorb too much iron from food (iron overload) and the extra iron can damage organs, particularly the liver, heart, pancreas, bones and joints.

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Juvenile arthritis

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis or JIA – generally known as juvenile arthritis – refers to all types of arthritis that affect young people less than 16 years of age. JIA is one of the most common, as well as serious, persistent medical conditions of childhood. More girls than boys have juvenile arthritis and it is rare for more than one child in any family to be affected. While some forms of JIA appear to be similar to some forms of adult arthritis, how it develops, parts of the body affected, and ways in which it is treated can be quite different.

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Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus)

Systemic lupus erythematosus (also called SLE or lupus) is an autoimmune condition. The normal role of your body’s immune system is to fight off infections and diseases to keep you healthy. In an autoimmune disease like lupus, your immune system starts attacking your own healthy tissues. For some people lupus may just affect the skin and/or joints. In other people the lungs, kidneys, blood vessels, brain or other parts of the body may also be affected.

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Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis is a condition that affects the whole joint including bone, cartilage, ligaments and muscles. Osteoarthritis can affect any joint but occurs most often in the knees, hips, finger joints and big toe. Osteoarthritis can develop at any age but tends to be more common in people aged over 40 years or those who have had joint injuries.

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Polymyalgia rheumatica

Polymyalgia rheumatica means ‘pain in many muscles’. It is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints and tissues around the joints. This causes muscles to feel painful and stiff, especially in the shoulder, neck and hip areas. Polymyalgia rheumatica is different to fibromyalgia, a condition that does not cause inflammation.

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Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints. This causes the joints to become painful, stiff and often swollen. Usually only people who have a skin disease called psoriasis are affected by psoriatic arthritis. Only one or two out of every 10 people with psoriasis will develop this type of arthritis.

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Reactive arthritis

Reactive arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation, pain and swelling of the joints. It usually develops after an infection, often in the bowel or genital areas. The infection causes activity in the immune system. The normal role of your body’s immune system is to fight off infections to keep you healthy. In some people this activity of the immune system causes joints to become inflamed, however the joints themselves are not actually infected.

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Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes pain and swelling of the joints. The normal role of your body’s immune system is to fight off infections to keep you healthy. In an autoimmune disease, your immune system starts attacking your own healthy tissues. In RA, the immune system targets the lining of the joints, causing inflammation and joint damage. RA usually affects smaller joints, such as the joints in the hands and feet. However larger joints such as the hips and knees can also be affected. The symptoms of RA vary from person to person. The most common symptoms are joint pain, swelling, and tenderness to touch with stiffness in the joints, especially in the morning.

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Ross River virus

Ross River virus is an infection that is spread to humans through mosquito bites. People of all ages are at risk of developing this infection. Ross River virus is the most common and widespread of mosquito borne diseases that infect humans in Australia. It is also known as epidemic polyarthritis. The majority of people infected with this virus have slight or no symptoms. However, about three out of ten people will develop symptoms which usually appear within three to 21 days after infection and can include a rash on the trunk and limbs; general illness with fever, chills, headaches and tiredness; with joint pain, stiffness and swelling.

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Scleroderma

The word ‘scleroderma’ means ‘hard skin’. Scleroderma affects the connective tissues of the body (tissues that hold together joints, muscles, blood vessels and internal organs). The connective tissues of people with scleroderma have too much of a protein called collagen. Collagen is important to give connective tissue its strength, but excess collagen causes hardening and tightening of the affected area. Many different areas of the body can be affected.

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Sjogren’s syndrome

Sjögren’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition. The normal role of your body’s immune system is to fight off infections and diseases to keep you healthy. In an autoimmune disease like Sjögren’s syndrome, your immune system starts attacking your own healthy tissues. This results in abnormal dryness of the mouth, eyes and/or other tissues. Around half the people who have Sjogren’s syndrome also have some form of arthritis (conditions affecting the joints, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis).

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Spondyloarthritis

‘Spondylo’ means affecting the spine and ‘arthritis’ means joint disease. Spondyloarthritis is a name for types of arthritis that commonly affect the spine. These types of arthritis all display inflammation of the spine and sacroiliac joints (joints that connect the base of your spine to your pelvis), felt as pain and stiffness in the buttocks, back and/or neck or joints in the legs. Another name used for this group of conditions is spondylitis, meaning inflammation of the spine.

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