Expert advice for young adults with arthritis

While arthritis is more common among older adults, it can also affect young adults, sometimes even during their teenage years. Picture: Supplied

While arthritis is more common among older adults, it can also affect young adults, sometimes even during their teenage years. Picture: Supplied

Published Nov 20, 2023


Arthritis is often associated with ageing but it's a misconception that it only affects the elderly, South African health coverage provider Affinity Health explained.

“Arthritis can strike at any age, including in young adults,” Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health said.

“However, with the right treatment, support, and a positive mindset, young adults with arthritis can manage their condition and lead fulfilling lives.”

What is arthritis?

Arthritis, in its many forms, is a group of conditions that cause joint inflammation, leading to pain, stiffness, and reduced mobility, Hewlett said.

Although this condition is more common among older adults, it can also affect young adults, sometimes even during their teenage years.

“When arthritis strikes in youth, it can be particularly challenging, as it disrupts the active and dynamic lives of individuals just starting to build their futures,” he said.

Types of arthritis affecting young adults

The Affinity Health CEO explained that while there are several types of arthritis that can affect young adults, some are more common than others. They include:

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): This is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system assaults the synovium – the membrane lining the joints, Hewlett said. “It typically begins in young adulthood and can affect several joints.”

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA): JIA is a term used to describe several types of arthritis that occur in children and adolescents, usually before age 16.

“Some forms of JIA can persist into adulthood,” he said.

Hewlett said young adults could also develop other types of arthritis, such as psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and reactive arthritis, which frequently develops in response to infections.

Symptoms of arthritis in young adults

Arthritis doesn't discriminate based on age, and the symptoms can be as debilitating for young adults as for older individuals, he warned.

Common symptoms include:

Joint pain.




Reduced range of motion.


Diagnosing arthritis in young adults

Diagnosing arthritis in young adults could be challenging because the symptoms often overlap with those of other conditions, Hewlett said. “If you or a young adult you know is experiencing persistent joint pain or other concerning symptoms, it's essential to consult a health-care provider. “

Affinity Health explains how the diagnosis process typically works:

Medical history: The health-care provider will ask about the patient’s medical history, including a family history of arthritis and any recent illnesses or infections.

Physical examination: A thorough physical examination will help assess joint inflammation, range of motion, and overall health.

Blood tests: Blood tests, including rheumatoid factor and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (anti-CCP) antibodies, may help identify specific types of arthritis.

Imaging: X-rays, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can provide detailed images of the joints and help diagnose underlying concerns.

Joint fluid analysis: If needed, a sample of joint fluid may be extracted and examined for signs of inflammation.

Management and treatment

The health-care provider added that various treatments and lifestyle changes can aid in managing the condition and enhance your quality of life.

“Depending on the type and severity of arthritis, health-care providers may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), or biologics to reduce inflammation and control symptoms,” said Hewlett.

He said a physical therapist could design exercises to improve joint mobility, strength, and function. In contrast, occupational therapists help individuals learn techniques and strategies to manage daily tasks more effectively despite weakened joints.

“Pain management techniques, such as heat and cold therapy or over-the-counter pain relievers, can provide relief, while surgical interventions like joint replacement may be necessary,” Hewlett said.

Coping with arthritis as a young adult

While a diagnosis of arthritis can be overwhelming, many young adults with this condition live fulfilling lives. Here are some strategies for coping:

Educate yourself: Understanding your condition and treatment options empowers you to make informed decisions.

Seek support: Connect with support groups to share experiences and coping strategies.

Advocate for yourself: Be an active participant in your health care.

Embrace self-care: Prioritise self-care activities that promote mental and emotional well-being.

Set realistic goals: Break down your goals into achievable steps to avoid feeling overwhelmed.