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Alternative Names Return to topHypertrophic osteoarthritis; Osteoarthrosis; Degenerative joint disease; DJD; OA; Arthritis - osteoarthritis
Definition Return to top
Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common joint disorder.
Causes Return to top
Most of the time, the cause of OA is unknown. It is mainly related to aging, but metabolic, genetic, chemical, and mechanical factors can also lead to OA.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis usually appear in middle age and almost everyone has them by age 70. Before age 55, the condition occurs equally in both sexes. However, after 55, it is more common in women.
The disease causes the cushioning (cartilage) between the bone joints to wear away. As the disease gets worse, the cartilage disappears and the bone rubs on bone. Bony spurs usually form around the joint.
OA can be primary or secondary.
Primary OA occurs without any type of injury or obvious cause.
Secondary OA is osteoarthritis due to another disease or condition. The most common causes of secondary OA are:
Symptoms Return to top
The symptoms of osteoarthritis include:
Some people might not have symptoms.
Exams and Tests Return to top
A physical exam can show:
An x-ray of affected joints will show loss of the joint space, and in advanced cases, wearing down of the ends of the bone and bone spurs.
Treatment Return to top
The goals of treatment are to:
The treatment depends on which joints are involved.
The most common medications used to treat osteoarthritis are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They are pain relievers that reduce pain and swelling. Types include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.
Although NSAIDs work well, long-term use of these drugs can cause stomach problems, such as ulcers and bleeding. Manufacturers of NSAIDs include a warning label on their products that alerts users to an increased risk for cardiovascular events (heart attacks and strokes) and gastrointestinal bleeding.
Other medications used to treat OA include:
Exercise helps maintain joint and overall movement. Ask your health care provider to recommend an appropriate home exercise routine. Water exercises, such as swimming, are especially helpful.
Other lifestyle recommendations include:
Physical therapy can help improve muscle strength and the motion at stiff joints. Therapists have many techniques for treating osteoarthritis. If therapy does not make you feel better after 3 - 6 weeks, then it likely will not work at all.
Splints and braces can sometimes support weakened joints. Some prevent the joint from moving; others allow some movement. You should use a brace only when your doctor or therapist recommends one. Using a brace the wrong way can cause joint damage, stiffness, and pain.
Severe cases of osteoarthritis might need surgery to replace or repair damaged joints. Surgical options include:
Support Groups Return to top
For more information and support, see arthritis resources.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Your movement may become very limited. Treatment generally improves function.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your health care provider if you have symptoms of osteoarthritis.
Prevention Return to top
Weight loss can reduce the risk of knee osteoarthritis in overweight women.
References Return to top
Gregory PJ, Sperry M, Wilson AF. Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis. Am Fam Physician. 2008;77:177-184.
Glass GG. Osteoarthritis. Dis Mon. 2006;52:343-362.Update Date: 5/5/2008 Updated by: Andrew L. Chen, MD, MS, Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine, The Alpine Clinic, Littleton, NH. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.