Osteoarthritis – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Osteoarthritis is also called degenerative joint disease or osteoarthrosis. It is the most common form of arthritis. People with osteoarthritis usually have joint pain and some movement limitations. Unlike some other forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis affects only joint function and does not affect skin tissue, the lungs, the eyes, or the blood vessels as many think about this illness. Among the over 100 different types of arthritis conditions, osteoarthritis is the most common, affecting over 20 million people in the United States. The risk of developing the condition increases with age. It mainly affects people over the age of 40, and is most common among those over the age of 65.


It is caused by the breakdown of cartilage. Cartilage is the tough elastic material that covers and protects the ends of bones. Bits of cartilage may break off and cause pain and swelling in the joint between bones. This pain and swelling is called inflammation. People with diabetes may be prone to osteoarthritis. Other endocrine problems also may promote development, including acromegaly, hypothyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, and obesity. A major injury or operation on a joint may lead to osteoarthritis at that site in later life. There are some abnormalities of the joint that you can be born with or which develop when you are a child, such as Perthes’ disease of the hips, which also lead to osteoarthritis in later life.


The symptoms of OA can vary significantly from person to person, and can range from mild and barely noticeable, to severe and disabling. Without cartilage, bones rub directly against each other when you move, causing pain and inflammation. Joint pain usually develops gradually and may feel dull or aching. Pain may be worse in the morning and feel better with activity. Vigorous activity may cause pain to flare up. As osteoarthritis becomes more severe, symptoms may include a total loss of function in the affected joints.


There is no blood test for osteoarthritis, but blood may be taken to exclude to check for other types of arthritis. The most useful test for osteoarthritis is an X-ray. This can show the narrowed space between the bones in a joint that is due to cartilage loss. It can also identify any calcification.

If you are overweight, try to lose some weight as the extra burden placed on back, hips, and knees can make symptoms worse. Even a modest amount of weight loss can make quite a difference.

Other treatment choices for osteoarthritis are the dietary supplements glucosamine and chondroitin. Glucosamine may decrease pain in some people with mild to moderate symptoms.

Some hyaluronic acid is already in the fluid in your joints. In people with osteoarthritis, the hyaluronic acid gets thinner. When this happens, there isn’t enough hyaluronic acid to protect the joint. Injections can put more hyaluronic acid into your knee joint to help protect it.