Osteoarthritis: Key Q&A

What is osteoarthritis?

OA is the most common type of arthritis. It most often affects the joints that support your body weight: the knees, hips and spine. It also occurs commonly in the hands and feet and can affect other joints as well.

What causes osteoarthritis?

Most OA damage happens because cartilage deteriorates and becomes frayed. This can occur naturally from the wear and tear of the aging process on the joints or because of other factors, such as athletic injury, being overweight or certain medical conditions.

What are the symptoms?

If you have OA, the symptoms you are most likely to experience are pain in your joints, limited mobility and stiffness. However, it is possible to have the condition and not have any symptoms at all.

How is it diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you have OA, you will likely undergo imaging studies, such as x-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Although x-rays and MRI are good indicators of how much damage there is to the joints, exactly how much damage may be unrelated to how much pain or stiffness you feel. In addition, several types of blood tests are often used to rule out other kinds of arthritis (such as rheumatoid arthritis) and other diseases that can mimic symptoms of OA.

Should I be tested for osteoarthritis?

If you believe you have a condition of any kind, consider getting tested for it. This is especially true for OA because it tends to run in families and may lack symptoms in early stages. Detecting OA early can increase your treatment options and help you live with less joint pain.

What are the risk factors?

The most common risk factors for OA include advanced age, being overweight, family history of the condition, joint injury and having certain medical conditions.

Is there a cure for osteoarthritis?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for OA. However, many treatments are available that can reduce the affects of the condition significantly. Talk to your doctor about which treatments may work best for you.

Are there ways to prevent osteoarthritis?

Because it is unclear exactly why some people get OA and others do not, there is no fail-safe way to prevent you from getting the condition. However, you can reduce your risk if you lose excess weight and if you avoid joint injuries by practicing good safety habits such as wearing seatbelts and wearing protective sports equipment.

Reviewed by Vikas Garg, M.D., MSA

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