Culture and Lifestyle > Physical Health

The Facts About Arthritis

Find out how arthritis affects your sexual health.

A person holds their knee in pain with both hands.

An estimated 58.5 million adults in the United States have arthritis. With proper treatment and care, people with arthritis can lead robust lives.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 24 percent of Americans are affected by arthritis. For some, this condition may serve as an occasional uncomfortable issue, while it can be extremely impactful in day-to-day life for others.

Arthritis is defined as acute or chronic inflammation of the respective joint, according to the National Library of Medicine. It is known to cause pain, stiffness, decreased range of motion and joint deformities.


Arthritis occurs when joints in the body become swollen and tender. There are more than 100 variations of arthritis. Some people may experience arthritis only acutely, while others may live with chronic arthritis. Treatment is dependent on the severity and type of arthritis.

More than half of U.S. adults with arthritis are of working age. About 8 million of these adults say their ability to work is hindered because of arthritis symptoms, according to the CDC.


Though arthritis broadly refers to joint inflammation, there are more than 100 different diseases that are considered arthritic conditions, each with its own symptoms and characteristics.

Some common types of arthritis include:

  • Fibromyalgia. This condition is characterized by widespread pain throughout the body, insomnia, fatigue, and sometimes emotional and mental distress.
  • Gout. Known to be very painful, gout is an arthritic condition typically triggered by a buildup of uric acid in the body, which causes uric acid crystals to accumulate in the body's joints, fluids and tissues. Gout often affects a single joint at a time—often starting in the big toe—and can go through periods of flare-ups and remission.
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Sometimes referred to as childhood arthritis or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, this condition can cause lasting physical joint damage and result in disability.
  • Osteoarthritis. The most common form of arthritis, this condition typically affects the hands, hips and knees. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that occurs as a result of cartilage in the joints breaking down due to aging or repetitive movements.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis. This is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, causing inflammation and swelling. Rheumatoid arthritis often affects joints in the hands, wrists and knees, and typically impacts multiple joints simultaneously. In some cases, the disease can also cause problems in the lungs, heart and eyes.

In addition to the more common types of arthritis listed, there are dozens of less common forms of arthritis, including psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.


Different types of arthritis cause joint damage in different ways. According to Mayo Clinic, most types of arthritis fall under the umbrella of either osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis causes joint damage through wear and tear to the cartilage, which is the cushion at the ends of bones meant to prevent friction when the joint is in motion. When the cartilage wears away, bone grinds on bone, which can cause pain, swelling and a limited range of motion. Over time, this can cause deterioration to the bones themselves as well as the connective tissues responsible for attaching the muscle to the bone and holding the joint together.

Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joint capsule—the membrane that surrounds the joint parts—causing it to become swollen and inflamed. As rheumatoid arthritis progresses, cartilage and bone within the joint can eventually start to deteriorate.


Symptoms may vary in type and severity depending on the type of arthritis. But there are a few general symptoms that tend to be common among most forms of arthritis.

Common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Redness
  • Reduced mobility
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling

Risks factors

Certain risk factors put an individual at a higher risk for developing an arthritic condition in their lifetime, including:

  • Age. Older individuals are at greater risk for developing arthritis.
  • Genetics. If family members, especially close relatives like your parents or siblings, have a history of arthritis, you are more likely to develop the condition.
  • Obesity. Excess weight adds stress to joints such as the knees, spine and hips, leaving overweight individuals at a greater risk for arthritis.
  • Past injury. People who have suffered a joint injury in the past are at increased risk for developing arthritis in that joint at some point.
  • Sex. Statistics show more women than men suffer from arthritis, particularly rheumatoid arthritis. However, men have been found to suffer from gout more often than their female counterparts.

Diagnosis and testing

To diagnose arthritis, doctors typically perform a physical exam, lab tests and imaging. The physical exam allows doctors to evaluate any present swelling, redness or reduced range of motion. Lab tests can help determine what type of arthritis you may have, whereas imaging such as X-rays, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), ultrasounds and CT (computed tomography) scans can help assess the current state of any affected joints.


The main goal of arthritis treatment is to mitigate symptoms and improve joint function. Depending on the type and severity of arthritis, treatment may include medication, physical therapy or surgery; for some people, a combination may be necessary to adequately address these symptoms.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can be used to relieve joint pain. These medications include common drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Counterirritants in the form of creams and ointments can sometimes help remedy joint pain, while corticosteroid medications administered orally or by injection can mitigate symptoms and slow joint damage. Additionally, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), are used to help slow permanent damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis.

Physical therapy can be a useful tool for some arthritis sufferers, as it can help them strengthen muscles surrounding affected joints, and in turn, improve mobility. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to repair or replace a joint.

Living with arthritis

Arthritis can affect every aspect of your life, from mood and quality of sleep to sexual health. Experiencing pain and swelling of the joints and operating with a limited range of motion can make work, running errands and exercising more difficult, too.

While it may be impossible to cure your arthritis, there are ways to reduce the severity of your symptoms and potentially prevent some as well. Talk to your doctor so you can create a plan for diet and exercise that is both obtainable and sustainable. You should discuss any problems you're experiencing with your doctor so they can determine a treatment plan to help you get your quality of life back, whether it's through lifestyle changes, medication, physical therapy, surgery or a combination of treatments.

Dating with arthritis

Dating can take a lot of energy, from finding ways to meet new people to setting up times to spend together to weeding out the bad prospects from the good. Add managing a chronic illness and the process becomes even more complicated.

One of the most exciting parts of dating someone new is the mystery of it all and the opportunity to get to know each other little by little. However, due to the unfortunate social stigma often attached to disability and illness, you may find yourself feeling apprehensive about revealing your diagnosis to someone you're newly dating; don't do it unless you feel safe and have the desire to do so.

On one hand, sharing information about your condition may help you weed out people who are prejudiced toward disability and illness. On the other hand, openness can serve as an important step toward building a solid foundation for a budding relationship. Ultimately, you don't owe anyone sensitive information about your health, so deciding if and when to divulge your condition is completely up to you.

Sexual health and arthritis

While arthritis may complicate certain aspects of intimacy, you can still have a robust and fulfilling sex life.

Some of the challenges arthritis may present in the bedroom include:

  • Difficulty having sex in certain positions due to stiffness
  • Low libido caused by arthritis-related fatigue
  • Reduced confidence due to swelling
  • Vaginal dryness or painful sex

Sex won't worsen arthritis and can prove beneficial for some people. Communicate with your partner about your symptoms so you can work together to determine how to most comfortably have sex. Together, experiment to find which sex positions minimize pain so you can focus on pleasure together. If you're struggling with stiffness, consider incorporating a warm bath and a massage from your partner into the mix.

Using a lubricant can greatly help with vaginal dryness and create the best circumstances to focus on pleasure and intimacy with your partner.

Talking to your partner

It seems obvious, but it's still important to say: Communicate with your partner about how you're feeling during sex. If you're experiencing pain at any time, tell your partner. Sharing how you're feeling gives you a chance to ensure you're having the best time possible with your partner while also creating space for you to be vulnerable and caring with each other.

Don't shy away from letting your partner know if your symptoms are flaring up and sex is the last thing on your mind at the moment. Being open can help lift any pressure of expectations you may otherwise feel, and you can take the opportunity to find alternative ways to feel close to each other, including methods such as cuddling, kissing or just spending quality time together.


What is the best treatment for arthritis?

Arthritis treatment aims to mitigate symptoms and improve joint function. Depending on the type and severity of arthritis, treatment may include medication, physical therapy or surgery. In some cases, a combination of treatments may be necessary to adequately address the symptoms.

What are the 5 most common symptoms of arthritis?

Five common symptoms of arthritis include pain, swelling of the joint, redness, stiffness and limited range of motion. The type and severity of symptoms can vary depending on the cause of arthritis.

Does arthritis show up in blood tests?

Lab analysis of body fluids, including urine, blood and joint fluid, may help doctors determine what type of arthritis a patient may have.