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Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. Its high prevalence, especially in the elderly, and its negative impact on physical function make it a leading cause of disability in the elderly. Because of the aging of Western populations and because obesity, a major risk factor, is increasing in prevalence, the occurrence of OA is on the rise.

OA affects certain joints, yet spares others (Fig. 371-1). Commonly affected joints include the hip, knee, and first metatarsal phalangeal joint (MTP) and cervical and lumbosacral spine. In the hands, the distal and proximal interphalangeal joints and the base of the thumb are often affected. Usually spared are the wrist, elbow, and ankle. Our joints were designed, in an evolutionary sense, for brachiating apes, animals that still walked on four limbs. We thus develop OA in joints that were ill designed for human tasks such as pincer grip (OA in the thumb base) and walking upright (OA in knees and hips). Some joints, like the ankles, may be spared because their articular cartilage may be uniquely resistant to loading stresses.

FIGURE 371-1

Joints commonly affected by osteoarthritis.

OA can be diagnosed based on structural abnormalities or on the symptoms these abnormalities evoke. According to cadaveric studies, by elderly years, structural changes of OA are nearly universal. These include cartilage loss (seen as joint space loss on x-rays) and osteophytes. Many persons with x-ray evidence of OA have no joint symptoms, and although the prevalence of structural abnormalities is of interest in understanding disease pathogenesis, what matters more from a clinical perspective is the prevalence of symptomatic OA. Symptoms, usually joint pain, determine disability, visits to clinicians, and disease costs.

Symptomatic OA of the knee (pain on most days of a recent month plus x-ray evidence of OA in that knee) occurs in ~12% of persons age ≥60 in the United States and 6% of all adults age ≥30. Symptomatic hip OA is roughly one-third as common as disease in the knee. Although radiographic hand OA and the appearance of bony enlargement in affected hand joints (Fig. 371-2) are extremely common in older persons, most affected persons have no pain. Even so, painful hand OA occurs in ~10% of elderly individuals and often produces measurable limitation in function.

FIGURE 371-2

Severe osteoarthritis of the hands affecting the distal interphalangeal joints (Heberden’s nodes) and the proximal interphalangeal joints (Bouchard’s nodes). There is no clear bony enlargement of the other common site in the hands, the thumb base.

The prevalence of OA rises strikingly with age, being uncommon in adults aged <40 and highly prevalent in those aged >60. It is also a disease that, at least in middle-aged and elderly persons, is much more common ...

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