Osteoarthritis (also sometimes referred to as “degenerative joint disease” or “degenerative arthritis”) is the most common form of arthritis—a condition that causes inflammation of one or more joints in the body. Osteoarthritis (OA) affects more than 27 million men and women over the age of 25 (or about one in seven adults), making it one of the leading causes of disability in adult Americans.
Although men and women of any age can develop OA, the disease is characterized by a breakdown in joint cartilage that is typical of the aging process. When OA occurs before the age of 55, it is equally common in men and women. After age 55 the condition is seen more frequently in women than in men.
Cartilage is a tough but rubbery covering the end of bones that protects synovial joints and allows them to move easily. Osteoarthritis is caused when your body’s cartilage begins to break down. The degeneration of cartilage exposes bones of the joint and allows bone-on-bone contact, causing extreme pain. The loss of cartilage may also affect the shape of the compromised joint so that it no longer functions smoothly. OA can affect any cartilaginous joint in your body, but it most commonly appears in the hands, hips, knees, neck, and lower back.
While OA is a slow-developing disease, it is also, unfortunately, a silent disorder that is difficult to diagnose until it begins to cause painful or debilitating symptoms. In many cases, osteoarthritis is only diagnosed after an accident or other incident that results in a fracture of the hip or knee. Over time, OA can cause pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited range of motion and sometimes may require joint replacement surgery. Those afflicted with the condition may be unable to continue working and in some cases may lose some ability to perform daily activities.
Written by: the Healthline Editorial Team
Published on Aug 25, 2010
Updated on Apr 18, 2013
Medically reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MD, MPH