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What causes arthritis?

There isn't a single answer to the question 'what causes arthritis?', as there are many different forms of arthritis to be considered.

Most types of arthritis are caused by several factors acting together. You may be naturally more likely to develop certain disorders as a result of your genetic make-up.

A variety of external factors may increase the risk further if you're susceptible to a condition. These include environmental factors - for example:

  • previous injury
  • infection
  • smoking
  • occupations which are very physically demanding. 

For many conditions there's also a major element of chance.

Genetics and family risks

Many forms of arthritis run in families to a degree, and some conditions have a stronger tendency to be passed on through genetics.

The way your body is made (based on the genes passed on from your parents) makes you more or less likely to develop a particular condition.

Arthritis Research UK supports research that's looking at the genetic side of arthritis. We believe this could lead to the ability to prevent some forms of arthritis.

Lifestyle and trigger factors

Arthritis can start suddenly without any obvious cause, and at any age. Sometimes something in your lifestyle or medical history – or a combination of these – could be responsible.

For example, if you have a physically demanding job you may be at greater risk of developing osteoarthritis, particularly if the job involves heavy repetitive activity. Also, a previous injury can increase the likelihood of osteoarthritis.

Infections can cause short-lived arthritis. One theory about the cause of rheumatoid arthritis is that it may be triggered by infections, but there's no direct evidence for this.

We do know that rheumatoid arthritis is more common and can be more severe in people who smoke. For some people, stopping smoking might reduce the risk of developing arthritis in the future.If you'd like to stop smoking talk to your doctor, who can give you advice and information to help you quit.

Some foods may appear to make your arthritis worse, but diet and food intolerance are unlikely to cause long-term arthritis.


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Arthritis Research UK fund research into the cause, treatment and cure of arthritis. You can support Arthritis Research UK by volunteering, donating or visiting our shops.