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Osteoarthritis - 10 Things You Should Know

From Early Symptoms to Disease Management

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Updated June 13, 2014

Osteoarthritis is the most prevalent type of arthritis. If you have signs and symptoms of osteoarthritis or you want to learn how osteoarthritis differs from other types of arthritis, there are 10 basic facts you should know about osteoarthritis.

1 - Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis.

Osteoarthritis can occur alone or together with another type of arthritis. Typically, the onset of osteoarthritis symptoms is gradual. There are 27 million Americans who have osteoarthritis. As the population ages, the number of people with osteoarthritis will continue to soar.

2 - Osteoarthritis is also referred to as wear-and-tear arthritis and degenerative arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is primarily characterized by progressive damage to joint cartilage and changes to structures around the joint, causing pain and limited range of motion in the affected joint. Fluid accumulation (joint effusion), bony overgrowth (osteophytes), and weakness of tendons and muscles can also result from the degenerative process.

3 - Weightbearing joints are the joints which are most commonly affected by osteoarthritis.

Weightbearing joints, such as knees, hips, and the spine are most commonly affected, though osteoarthritis can also affect fingers or any joint with prior traumatic injury, infection, or inflammation. Bony nodes and knobs on fingers (e.g. Heberden's or Bouchard's nodes are a sign of damage from osteoarthritis.

4 - Most osteoarthritis patients have increased joint pain during activity, which is relieved with rest.

Movement and activity typically cause pain in the affected joint for osteoarthritis patients. Late-stage osteoarthritis is characterized by severe pain and unstable joints (i.e joint giving out or locking up). Morning stiffness, which is usually linked to rheumatoid arthritis, can also occur with osteoarthritis but it usually lasts for a half hour or less.

5 - Osteoarthritis affects people of all ages but the disease is more prevalent among older people.

Seventy percent of people older than 70 have x-ray evidence of osteoarthritis. Only half of the group with x-ray evidence will become symptomatic.

6 - More women than men have osteoarthritis.

Overall, more women than men develop osteoarthritis. Interestingly, men under age 55 are more likely to have osteoarthritis than women under 55 years old. After 55 years of age, women are more commonly affected by osteoarthritis.

7 - There are certain risk factors associated with osteoarthritis.

Risk factors associated with osteoarthritis include:

  • age
  • obesity
  • injury or overuse of joint
  • heredity/family history
  • muscle weakness

People with certain diseases (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis, hemochromatosis, acromegaly) are also at higher risk of developing osteoarthritis.

8 - Early diagnosis and treatment of osteoarthritis is important for successful management of the disease.

An internist or rheumatologist can diagnose osteoarthritis. The doctor will take your medical history, physical examination, and will order x-rays or an MRI to look for evidence of joint damage consistent with osteoarthritis. Blood tests may be ordered to rule out other types of arthritis.

9 - Osteoarthritis treatment options focus on controlling pain, preserving function, and slowing disease progression.

Your doctor will likely recommend one or more of the following treatment options to manage your osteoarthritis symptoms:

10 - By 2030, approximately 20 percent of Americans will be over 65 years old and at high risk for developing osteoarthritis.

There has never been a better time than right now to make lifestyle modifications which may prevent osteoarthritis or help you manage the disease if you do develop it. Don't wait to begin a regular regimen of moderate exercise or to lose excess weight. Don't ignore early symptoms of osteoarthritis if they develop. Consult with your doctor and understand your options.

Sources:

Osteoarthritis. American College of Rheumatology. June 2006. 3 May 2007
http://www.rheumatology.org/public/factsheets/oa_new.asp?aud=pat

Osteoarthritis Fact Sheet. Arthritis Foundation. 2005. 3 May 2007
http://www.arthritis.org/conditions/Fact_Sheets/OA_Fact_Sheet.asp

Disease Center - Osteoarthritis. Arthritis Foundation. 3 May 2007
http://www.arthritis.org/conditions/diseasecenter/OA/oa_overview.asp

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