Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis out of more than 100 different types. It’s the type most people think of when they hear someone say they have “arthritis.” You probably can name more than one elderly relative who has or had the disease. After all, it is associated with aging and wear-and-tear of the joints. You may remember your elderly loved one talking about their arthritis pain or remember watching them struggle to get out of a chair and walk. You may have seen them rubbing cream on their aching joints or using a heating pad as they tried anything that might offer a bit of relief.
You may have even wondered if that was what old age had in store for you. Were you witnessing what it would be like for you? When you’re young, it seems many years away, so the tendency is not to worry. But as you grow older, is osteoarthritis what’s facing you? Is there a 100% chance that you will develop osteoarthritis at some point in your life? Does everyone develop osteoarthritis?
Common but Not Inevitable
Osteoarthritis is common, but the disease is not inevitable. While there are about 27 million Americans with osteoarthritis, it is possible for a person to live their entire life without developing the condition. The number includes the elderly. It has been established that approximately 70% of people over the age of 65 have X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis, but not all of them experience symptoms.
Not Solely Related to the Aging Process
The risk of developing osteoarthritis increases with age, but it is not simply a normal part of aging. While certain cellular processes that occur with aging may cause osteoarthritis in some people, it has been suggested that there is more than just aging that is responsible for arthritic changes to cartilage and joints. An inflammatory process has been suspected and studied.
Certain Factors Increase Risk
There are risk factors associated with osteoarthritis. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you will develop the disease. For example, if have a family history of osteoarthritis, you are at increased risk of developing the disease. If you have had a joint injury or are overweight, your risk of developing osteoarthritis is greater. Some risk factors are modifiable (e.g., being overweight) while others are not (e.g., genetics). While these factors increase your chances of developing osteoarthritis, you can develop the disease even if you have none of the recognized risk factors.
Not everyone develops osteoarthritis. It is not an inevitable condition. Risk factors increase the likelihood you will develop osteoarthritis, but people can develop the disease who have none of the known risk factors.
As research progresses, the causes of osteoarthritis may be discovered. As with peptic ulcers, it may be that what we always thought was the cause (in that case, stress) was, in fact, something easily treatable (a bacteria). A simple treatment or preventative drug may be developed. Or, we may be able to eliminate one of the major risk factors, such as the high rate of obesity in the population, and reduce the frequency of osteoarthritis.