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Inflammatory Arthritis

What is inflammatory arthritis?

Inflammatory arthritis (IA) is joint inflammation caused by an overactive immune system. It usually affects many joints throughout the body at the same time. Inflammatory forms of arthritis are much less common than osteoarthritis (OA), which affects most people at the later stages of life.

What is the difference between osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis?

The major distinction between OA and IA is that:

  • Osteoarthritis is caused by physical use – wear and tear of a joint over time (or, occasionally, over a short time as a result of an injury).
  • Inflammatory arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease in which your immune system misidentifies your own body tissues as harmful germs or pathogens and attacks them. The result is inflammation of the affected tissues in and around joints.

Because OA involves physical wear on joints in the body, it usually appears in people after the age of 50. The older you get, the more likely you are to get osteoarthritis.

Since inflammatory arthritis is a chronic disease, it affects people of all ages, often striking people in their peak working and child-rearing age. IA diseases can often be diagnosed in patients as young as age 20 or 30. Less commonly, kids and teens may be diagnosed with a form of childhood arthritis, such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis. IA is more common in females than in males, and it is not understood why.

What are the symptoms of inflammatory arthritis?

The most common symptoms of inflammatory arthritis are:

  • Joint pain and stiffness after periods of rest or inactivity, particularly in the morning
  • Swelling, redness and/or a feeling of warmth in the affected joints
  • Inflammation of other areas in the body, such as the skin or internal organs like the lungs and heart

People with inflammatory arthritis generally experience alternating periods of "flares" of highly intense symptoms with periods of inactivity.

What are the different types of inflammatory arthritis?

The major types of inflammatory arthritis include:

When detected and treated in its early stages, the effects of inflammatory arthritis can be greatly diminished, or the condition may even disappear completely. The importance of proper diagnosis, particularly in the early stages of the disease, may prevent serious, lifelong arthritic complications.

The Early Arthritis Initiative of the Inflammatory Arthritis Center connects patients quickly and efficiently with a rheumatologist who can evaluate their joint pain and get each patient started on an appropriate course of treatment. HSS also offers specialized patient support and education programs for conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

How is inflammatory arthritis treated?

Inflammatory arthritis is usually treated with a combination of medications that relieve swelling and pain along with others, such as steroids or immunosuppressive drugs, that regulate the immune system. To prevent loss of mobility and joint function, it is essential that patients strive to balance between periods of rest (which can help to prevent flare of symptoms) and activity (which helps prevent joints from becoming too stiff).

As with osteoarthritis, joint replacement surgery may need to be considered when these nonsurgical methods have failed to provide lasting benefit.

Learn more about IA from the articles below or find the best arthritis doctor at HSS for your condition and insurance by selecting treating physicians.

Inflammatory arthritis overview articles

Explore more in-depth content on the basics of various forms of inflammatory arthritis.

Inflammatory arthritis treatment articles

Learn about nonsurgical therapies and surgical options available to treat inflammatory arthritis.

Inflammatory arthritis wellness articles

Read about special health considerations for people with inflammatory arthritis, and get tips on how to manage your condition at home and in the workplace.

Inflammatory arthritis articles for healthcare professionals

The below articles are designed to help primary care physicians and other medical professionals diagnose and treat inflammatory arthritis, as well as to determine when to refer patients to a rheumatologist.

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