Arthritis can affect joints throughout your entire body. Sometimes, more than one joint is affected. In having those five or more joints affected, it becomes important to understand what polyarthritis is.

We hear about arthritis quite frequently. It’s a disease that affects your joints. If you’ve got arthritis, then you might find it hard to move those joints that are affected. Pain, inflammation, and tenderness may follow. While you’ve heard of arthritis, one term that you may not be too familiar with is polyarthritis. In this post, we’re going to take a closer look at what it is, consider polyarthritis symptoms, and see what treatments can help with the symptoms.

What is Polyarthritis? Who does Polyarthritis affect?

We’ll start by considering what polyarthritis is. It’s a term that describes specific situations within different forms of arthritis. One thing to note here is that polyarthritis is not an arthritic disease. It’s rather a complication that can happen as part of other conditions, like osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Thus, it’s a condition that can affect you if you’ve got a type of arthritis already.

In terms of what it means – it refers to situations where you have five or more joints that are affected by your arthritis. When multiple joints are affected in this way, your symptoms may feel more severe. This especially happens when the affected joints are close to each other. Imagine having five or more joints in one hand affected by arthritis. That’s going to make movement a challenge and could even lead to pain that’s harder to tolerate.

Different types of Polyarthritis

When considering polyarthritis, you might be wondering about the different types of the disease. Instead of considering the types of polyarthritis, though, we rather have to focus on the underlying conditions. This means it’s important to take note of arthritis that leads to polyarthritis. With this in mind, we should take a look at the types of arthritis conditions that can result in polyarthritis.

While many forms of arthritis can affect five or more joints, some seem to be more commonly associated with polyarthritis than others. With that said, let’s take a look at the three most common ones.

1. Rheumatoid arthritis

This is an autoimmune disease where your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissue [1] in your body. It’s also known as an inflammatory condition. As your immune system targets healthy joint tissue, it results in inflammatory responses. When you’ve got rheumatoid arthritis, you might find that it affects multiple joints at the same time.

The important thing to note about rheumatoid arthritis is that it doesn’t just target joints. Sure, joints are the main target when your immune system attacks healthy cells. However, as the disease progresses, it can actually cause damage to other systems in your body, too. Some of these include your blood vessels, eyes, lungs, skin, and heart.

Apart from the immune system’s involvement, another key factor that sets rheumatoid arthritis aside from other types, such as osteoarthritis, is the fact that it targets the lining of joints. When this happens, swelling occurs – and over time, this results in erosion of bone tissue. Additionally, joint deformity is also not uncommon with rheumatoid arthritis, especially over a longer period of time.

2. Osteoarthritis

One of the more common arthritis types is osteoarthritis. This isn’t an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis. Instead, it’s an arthritic condition that happens following years of wear and tear on our joints and bones. In fact, when looking at prevalence statistics, osteoarthritis is the most common one. It’s more common in older people as that would include more years of wear on joints and bone tissue.

Osteoarthritis often affects your knees, hips, and hands. However, it’s not limited to only these areas. The main problem with osteoarthritis is the fact that cartilage begins to break down. When this happens, bones begin to rub against each other. Cartilage is like a cushioning that acts as padding between your bones.

3. Psoriatic arthritis

Another common one that can cause polyarthritis is psoriatic arthritis. This arthritis is actually one that shares a link with psoriasis – the skin condition that affects some people. Psoriasis generally causes rashes, thick fingernails, and scaly patches on your skin.

When you’ve got psoriatic arthritis, it can cause similar symptoms. However, it also affects your joints. In fact, the symptoms are often said to be similar to those of rheumatoid arthritis. There are some differences, of course, such as the fact that psoriatic arthritis doesn’t affect as many joints as rheumatoid arthritis at the same time. However, even though this is true, psoriatic arthritis is sometimes linked to polyarthritis.

This arthritis usually affects smaller joints, such as those that are located in your toes and fingers. Sometimes, joints in both your fingers and toes are affected.

Depending on the cause of polyarthritis, doctors may sometimes divide it into two categories. This includes noninflammatory and inflammatory polyarthritis. As the name suggests, this typing takes a look at whether the polyarthritis is accompanied by inflammation in the joints that are affected.

How common is Polyarthritis?

It’s good to know how common problems like polyarthritis are. It can give you some extra clarity in terms of how likely you are to experience it. The problem, however, is that little data is available on the exact prevalence.

One reason for this is that polyarthritis is an occurrence that can happen in different types of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1% of the population [2]. Another 1% to 3% of the population has psoriatic arthritis. Among these people, polyarthritis can develop – in which case the arthritis they have affects five or more joints.

When looking at how common polyarthritis is, it’s important to take note of the different arthritis types that can affect multiple joints at a time. Once you break things down into those types of arthritis, it’s easier to understand the risk of polyarthritis.

What causes Polyarthritis?

Understanding your risk really starts with knowing what the polyarthritis causes are. No fixed cause accounts for every case of polyarthritis, though. That’s why we must analyze all of the potential causes and risk factors that seem to play a role in its development.

An existing arthritis remains the most common reason why people develop polyarthritis. There are different types of arthritis that you should be aware of in this case. We’ve already talked about three types, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. However, other forms of arthritis can also lead to polyarthritis, so let’s take a closer look at them:

  • Gout
  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
  • Calcium pyrophosphate deposition disease, sometimes also called pseudogout

While arthritis is generally the most common reason why people get polyarthritis, other things can also trigger it. So, let’s take a moment to consider two other potential causes.

1. Infection

An infection happens when pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, enter your body. While your immune system is usually quick to react and fight against these invading microbes, there are times when they still cause infection. Now, the “trigger” that happens here is usually when your immune system has an “overactive” effect to fight against the invaders. When this happens, your joints may be affected in the process. This can trigger the development of polyarthritis.

Luckily, if this is the case, you’ll usually have acute polyarthritis [3]. That means the symptoms should start to subside in about six weeks.

There are a couple of infections that can trigger polyarthritis. Some examples include viral hepatitis, rheumatic fever, Lyme disease, parvovirus, and mononucleosis. If you’re exposed to the virus that causes HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), then it’s also possible for the virus to trigger polyarthritis.

2. Autoimmune conditions

We’ve discussed the fact that rheumatoid arthritis, a type of autoimmune disease, can cause polyarthritis. Apart from rheumatoid arthritis, we addressed psoriatic arthritis as a potential link, too. There are, however, other autoimmune conditions that may also be the reason behind polyarthritis.

Apart from these, you should also note that scleroderma, sarcoidosis, and lupus are autoimmune conditions that sometimes act as triggers for polyarthritis. Thus, if you have any of these autoimmune diseases, it’s going to increase your likeliness to get polyarthritis (pain and inflammation in five or more joints).

Polyarthritis symptoms and signs

There are some general symptoms you can expect if you’ve got polyarthritis. However, it’s also important to note that specific symptoms may also be linked to what’s causing the polyarthritis – that underlying factor can also influence how it will affect you.

With this said, let’s first assess some of the more general symptoms that you might experience. These polyarthritis symptoms are the most common:

  • Pain in the affected joints
  • Warm feeling in the area
  • Stiffness in these joints
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling

Note that with polyarthritis, you’re going to have these symptoms in at least five joints. These joints may sometimes be located close to each other.

There are also cases where the symptoms are not accompanied by inflammation. This is known as noninflammatory polyarthritis. Once again, it comes down to those underlying factors. Osteoarthritis is usually the reason behind noninflammatory polyarthritis. That’s because, with osteoarthritis, cartilage breaks down. When this happens, bones can come into contact with each other when you move around. It can cause pain, stiffness, and tenderness, but not necessarily inflammation in the affected area.


Polyarthritis treatment options

If you have polyarthritis, then you’ll need to understand why you have it. The reason behind it is what doctors are going to target when they want to give you an effective treatment plan. This is because polyarthritis isn’t the problem itself. It’s rather the reason for polyarthritis – and when doctors target the underlying cause, they can more effectively reduce the symptoms you’re experiencing.

That’s why we have to start with the diagnosis process. Your doctor will start with a physical exam. They will also ask you about the symptoms you have. These are two of the initial processes your doctor uses to diagnose polyarthritis.

Some of the questions your doctor may ask include:

  • When did your symptoms start?
  • How many joints are affected?
  • Have you been diagnosed with any form of arthritis before?
  • Have you experienced any bacterial or viral infections recently?
  • Do you have any autoimmune diseases?

Each of these points is important. It’s useful to take a few notes before you see your doctor. This way, you can have concise answers and don’t have to spend too long thinking back when your doctor starts to ask you a few questions.

Now, in terms of diagnosing your polyarthritis, your doctor needs to understand why it’s happening. That’s why they will use a systematic approach where they rule out a specific set of causes.

Most doctors will first want to rule out problems like an infection. This is why you may find that your doctor checks for swollen lymph nodes and assesses your throat. Your doctor may also run tests to determine if you have inflammatory bowel disease, Raynaud’s phenomenon, fibromyalgia, or hemochromatosis.

There are a couple of tests that your doctor will likely order. This is to give them a better idea of what’s going on. Imaging tests like ultrasound, MRI, and X-rays are very common. These give the doctor a visual presentation of the area where the affected joints are located. They can then look for signs of wear and damage, which can play an incredibly important part in making a diagnosis.

Other tests can also be part of the diagnostics process. For example, if your doctor suspects that polyarthritis is due to an infection, they may collect a blood sample and send it to a lab for testing. Joint aspiration is sometimes done when there is swelling in the affected area. Through aspiration, some of the fluids that accumulate in the area surrounding these joints are extracted with a needle. There’s no need to worry, though, as the needle is very thin and should only cause minimal discomfort.

After some tests, your doctor should now have a better idea about what is causing the polyarthritis. At this point, they can start to work on a treatment plan. It’s important to note that your doctor will have to consider whether you have acute or chronic polyarthritis.

Treatment depends on why you have polyarthritis. Your doctor may recommend a special polyarthritis diet. This can be helpful in cases like rheumatoid arthritis and gout. The diet would exclude pro-inflammatory foods, for example.

Apart from a polyarthritis diet, your doctor may also give you prescription medications. This may include antirheumatic drugs if you have rheumatoid arthritis, for example. There are over-the-counter drugs that can be helpful, too. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, for example, help to reduce inflammation in your joints. Over-the-counter options, however, are usually only good for mild to moderate symptoms.

As part of the polyarthritis treatment process, you may be given certain injections. This may include corticosteroids injected into the joints that are affected by the polyarthritis.

Only in severe cases will your doctor consider treatment options like Arthroplasty. They may have you take medication, use injections, and perhaps adopt a polyarthritis diet to see if these adjustments help. As a last resort, they can recommend arthroplasty, which is a surgical procedure that aims to make improvements to the damage that has already occurred in your joints.

You might also want to consider taking a supplement that helps to improve joint health. Flexoplex Joint Health Supplement is a great example, as it contains a number of natural ingredients that strengthen bone and joint tissue. It also helps to restore the natural lubrication in your joints and helps to preserve the cushioning that acts as a barrier to prevent bone-on-bone contact.

Frequently asked questions

Is polyarthritis rheumatoid arthritis?

Polyarthritis isn’t really a condition itself. It can refer to rheumatoid arthritis, but also other forms of arthritis. That’s because it refers to situations where arthritis affects at least five different joints in your body.

How long does polyarthritis last?

It depends on whether you have acute or chronic polyarthritis. In acute cases, you should start to feel better in six weeks. If the symptoms persist for longer, then you likely have chronic polyarthritis, and it will last for a more prolonged period.

Does polyarthritis go away?

Yes and no. Acute cases of polyarthritis will usually go away. However, if it becomes chronic, then it’s much harder to clear up the symptoms that you experience.

Is polyarthritis an autoimmune disease?

No, polyarthritis itself is not an autoimmune disease. It’s important to note, though, that it can include the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, which is a type of autoimmune disease.

Final verdict

Polyarthritis can happen to anyone with arthritis. It’s not a name for a disease; it’s rather a term that describes five or more joints being affected by your arthritis. Different types of arthritis can cause polyarthritis. Polyarthritis can be acute, in which case it should clear up in about six weeks. Sometimes it can be chronic as well, which will last for a longer period of time. Treatment usually targets the underlying arthritis you have and may include anti-inflammatory drugs and pain medication.