Osteoarthritis cases could reach 1 billion worldwide by 2050, study says

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Cases of osteoarthritis have more than doubled in Canada over the last 30 years, according to a new study, which predicts the condition could affect up to 1 billion people worldwide by 2050.

The study, published in the journal The Lancet Rheumatology Monday, found that between 1990 and 2020, cases of osteoarthritis rose to 595 million from 256 million globally — an increase of 132 per cent. In Canada, the cases went up from 1.8 million to 4.1 million over the same time period, according to the study’s author, Dr. Jaimie Steinmetz.

“It’s just really huge numbers of people who are experiencing this condition,” she told Global News. “It can be quite impactful on one’s life.”

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and can be quite painful, Steinmetz said. It typically affects the hands, knees and hips.

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The progressive condition currently affects 15 per cent of the global population over the age of 30, according to the study. The condition’s prevalence increases with age.

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Health Matters: Out-of-this-world osteoarthritis research

Cases increased over the last three decades due to aging, population growth and obesity, the study found. Obesity made up about 20 per cent of cases in 2020, up from 16 per cent in 1990.

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Osteoarthritis can affect women more than men, with the study finding that 61 per cent of cases in 2020 were in women compared to 39 per cent in men. Anatomical differences explain why it may affect women more, as well as genetics and hormonal factors, the study said.

Steinmetz warns that an increase in osteoarthritis cases could put additional pressure on health-care systems, as Canada’s hospitals are already being pushed to their limits. She said that the condition can exist with other conditions, creating a more complicated scenario for health-care providers

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It can be diagnosed based on symptoms and a physical examination as there is no single test for osteoarthritis, according to Arthritis Society of Canada. An x-ray or MRI is not typically part of the diagnostic process, but may be ordered if the patient is not responding to treatment.

There is no effective cure for the condition, so Steinmetz stresses preventative measures, such as regular exercise, a healthy diet, increasing muscular strength and avoiding joint injury. Pain medication can be used to help deal with the condition, she said.

She also hopes that hospitals can detect the condition earlier to create interventions, rather than when it is really severe.

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