It's Your Health
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Osteoarthritis is caused by the wearing down of cartilage in the joints of the body, causing varying degrees of pain, stiffness and swelling. A majority of Canadians will be affected by it by age 70. However, there are prevention and coping strategies that can help seniors with the disease remain active and enjoy a good quality of life.
The word 'arthritis' means joint inflammation. The term is used to describe more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis and the one most often found in seniors. It is also one of the major conditions that leads to disability in seniors and causes them to limit their activities.
Osteoarthritis wears down cartilage, the material that cushions the ends of bones. Some studies suggest that when the joints are unable to react properly to physical stress on them, the cartilage is damaged and arthritis develops.
The joints most commonly affected by osteoarthritis are weight bearing joints, such as feet, knees, hips and spine. Other joints, such as finger and thumb joints, may also be affected.
Up to age 55, about the same percentage of men and women have osteoarthritis, with men being slightly more vulnerable. After that age, women are more vulnerable and it affects them in different ways. In women, the disease seems to affect the hands, knees, ankles and feet, usually involving multiple joints. In men, the hips, wrists and spine are more likely to be affected.
The symptoms of osteoarthritis can include some or all of the following:
Many people do not have any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. It often can take a long time for the disease to progress and the disease can remain stable for long periods of time.
Your chances of developing osteoarthritis can depend on several factors.
While you can't avoid some risk factors such as age and heredity, there are steps you can take to help prevent osteoarthritis and cope with its effects once you have it.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is committed to promoting and protecting the health and well-being of Canadians. In particular, the Agency disseminates information on healthy aging and encourages seniors' health promotion, risk reduction and stabilization of chronic conditions, such as osteoarthritis.
The Public Health Agency of Canada, in collaboration with key partners, is helping to enhance national monitoring of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions.
For more information on arthritis, visit the following sites.
Public Health Agency of Canada Muskuloskeletal Diseases - Arthritis.
Public Health Agency of Canada Arthritis Info-sheet for seniors.
The Arthritis Society or your local provincial/territorial Arthritis Society
For additional articles on health and safety issues go to the It's Your Health Web site.
You can also call toll free at 1-866-225-0709 or TTY at 1-800-465-7735*.
Original: March 2007
© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Health, 2007