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What Is Polyarticular Arthritis?

By Clara Kedrek
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Polyarticular arthritis occurs when there is pain or inflammation of multiple joints. It is important to characterize how many joints are affected in a patient who is complaining about joint pain, since the causes of having pain in only one joint, or monoarticular arthritis, are different from the causes of having pain in many joints, or polyarticular arthritis. The reasons for developing arthritis in many joints can be grouped into categories including infectious causes, rheumatologic causes, and non-inflammatory causes.

In general, this type of arthritis can cause symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and redness. Sometimes the pain is worse with activity, but in other cases the pain might improve with movement. In certain cases joints are involved symmetrically, meaning for example that both knees are affected at the same time. Although treatment varies widely according to the cause of the arthritis, in general, treatments such as taking pain relievers, exercising the joints, and using heating pads can help relive some of the joint pain, soreness, and aching that might be associated with the arthritis.

Arthritis affecting many joints can non-inflammatory causes, infectious causes, and rheumatologic causes. One of the most common causes of polyarticular arthritis, osteoarthritis, is caused by non-inflammatory mechanisms. Essentially, this disease is caused by chronic wear and tear on the joints, and its prevalence increases with age. Commonly involved joints include the knees, wrists, shoulders, and hips. Treatment typically involves exercise, weight loss, pain medication, and in severe cases, surgery to replace the affected joints.

Rheumatologic diseases can also cause polyarticular arthritis. Perhaps the most well-known of the rheumatologic conditions is rheumatoid arthritis, a disease in which inflammation of the lining of the joints causes symptoms including pain, swelling, redness, and decreased ability to move the affected joints. Commonly involved joints include the small joints of the fingers. Treatment of this condition can include medications that focus on decreasing the inflammation, and a number of different classes of medications are available. Other rheumatologic causes of this kind of arthritis include systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosis spondylitis.

Infections can also cause arthritis in multiple joints. Bacterial causes can include infection with Lyme disease and gonorrhea. Viral causes can include hepatitis C, hepatitis B, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), rubella, and parvovirus. Some patients develop a syndrome called reactive arthritis, in which they experience pain in their joints after having a bacterial infection.

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