Research finds link between osteoarthritis and increased risk of premature death

A new study has found that people with osteoarthritis are 11% more likely to die than those without the condition - but walking more could reduce the risk.

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis in the UK, affecting nearly nine million people, and the charity Versus Arthritis expects it to affect more than 17 million people by 2030. Osteoarthritis occurs when joints wear out and most commonly affects the hands, knees, hips and spine

The research, funded by the Medical Research Council and published in the journal Rheumatic and Musculoskeletal Diseases Open was led by Dr Ross Wilkie, Senior Lecturer in Public Health and Epidemiology at Keele University. The study monitored more than 10,000 patients aged over 50-years-old over a 10-year period to identify whether or not osteoarthritis was linked to higher mortality rates.

The data found that people with osteoarthritis had a higher risk of death. Some of the increased risk was explained by other factors such as other health conditions (such as cardiovascular disease), non-steriodal anti-inflammatories, obesity and socio-economic status. After accounting for these factors, there remained an 11% increased risk of premature death in people with osteoarthritis compared to those that did not have the condition.

The research identified that increasing physical activity such as walking in addition to targeting the osteoarthritis itself could help lower the risk of death. Walking frequency was found to be a key target to reduce mortality and walking more could reduce the extent of premature mortality in people with osteoarthritis. Depression, anxiety and unrefreshed sleep were also found to explain some of the increased risk but this was of low clinical significance.

Osteoarthritis is not considered as life-threatening by health professionals, and this study provides evidence that prevention of its consequences is an important target for clinicians.

Dr Wilkie said: “The number of people with osteoarthritis means that managing osteoarthritis is a key issue for public health and primary care. The study has two main findings, first is that the impact of osteoarthritis is broad and extends to premature death. The second is that following the use of a relatively novel approach to identify the mechanisms for premature mortality we have provided evidence for key targets to reduce premature death.

“Linked to a population health approach, encouraging people to be more active despite having osteoarthritis is important.”