Lifetime risk of hand arthritis may be over 40 percent

(Reuters Health) - Osteoarthritis, a painful condition in which the tissue between bones wears down, frequently affects people in old age and a new study finds that as many as 4 in 10 people may develop the condition in their hands.

Among women, researchers found the lifetime risk was 47 percent while for men it was about 25 percent. Obese people also had 11 percent higher lifetime risk than those who were not obese.

Hand osteoarthritis can cause disability and problems with daily living, but is not often a subject of research, the study team writes in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology.

Past research shows the lifetime risk for arthritis of the knee to be 45 percent and 25 percent for the hip, they write.

“These findings indicate that symptomatic hand osteoarthritis is very common, and affects a substantial proportion of the population in their lifetimes,” lead author Jin Qin told Reuters Health by email.

“Given the aging population and increasing life expectancy in the United States, it is reasonable to expect that more Americans will be affected by this painful and debilitating condition in the years to come,” said Qin, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The researchers analyzed data from a North Carolina-based study of more than 2,000 people over age 45. The study collected data between 1999 and 2010, using self-reports of arthritis symptoms and X-ray images of the participants’ hands.

Based on this group, researchers estimated the proportion of people who will develop osteoarthritis in at least one hand by age 85 to be 39.8 percent.

Whites were at greater risk, at 41 percent, for hand osteoarthritis than blacks, with 29 percent. Obese people had a lifetime risk of 47 percent, compared to 36 percent among the non-obese.

“Some people with hand osteoarthritis have minimal or no symptoms. But for many, symptomatic hand osteoarthritis greatly affects their everyday lives, with few options for improving their symptoms,” Dr. Fiona Watt, a research lecturer and honorary consultant rheumatologist at the University of Oxford in the UK, said by email.

The pain can vary and tends to be worse the more people use their hands, flaring up during daily activity like carrying heavy shopping bags or typing on keyboards or phones, said Watt, who was not involved in the study.

“Our hands are so important, and we need to look after them,” Watt said, adding that doing aerobic exercise and watching our weight can help protect against all types of osteoarthritis.

“We know that injury can increase the risk of osteoarthritis,” Watt said. “Although we can’t always prevent hand injuries, wearing supporting and protective gloves in occupations with heavy use of the hand is important.”

Preventing injuries and maintaining a healthy weight may lower the risk of osteoarthritis, Qin said. “Earlier diagnosis allows earlier use of interventions (e.g. physical/occupational therapy), that may help manage symptoms, maintain better function, and improve quality of life,” she said.

SOURCE: Arthritis and Rheumatology, online May 8, 2017.