epidemiology of osteoarthritis

Last reviewed 10/2021

Osteoarthritis is extremely common - some radiological surveys suggesting that about 10% of all adults have moderate or severe joint involvement.

The incidence is higher in females (2:1) and in the elderly.

The correlation between radiographic findings and symptoms is poor - only 30% of those with severe changes on the X-ray will be troubled by osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is found throughout the animal kingdom; unlike rheumatoid arthritis which is specific for Homo sapiens.

There are significant geographical variations:

  • Caucasian women frequently get hand involvement
  • OA of the hip is rare in China

Genetic factors are particularly important in the generalised nodal form of OA.

Environmental factors are also important:

  • occupation, e.g. the backs of miners and the hands of cotton workers
  • trauma