Conference Coverage

High comorbidity rate seen before osteoarthritis diagnosis



More than 40 medical conditions were positively associated with having a new diagnosis of osteoarthritis according to research presented at the OARSI 2022 World Congress.

“Some of the associations that we have found are previously known, such as of course, obesity, which is a known risk factor, but also other musculoskeletal conditions, depression, and reflux disease,” said Anne Kamps, an MD and PhD student at Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

“But there are also some remarkable associations that we have found that are less well known, such as liver cirrhosis, thromboembolic disease, sinusitis, allergy, and migraine,” said Dr. Kamps during her presentation at the conference, sponsored by the Osteoarthritis Research Society International.

The results are “very interesting starting points for future research, because of course, this was an explorative study,” she added. Indeed, is still not known whether the comorbidities found share the same risk factors as OA, or if they have a causal effect and add to development of osteoarthritis.

Comorbidity and OA

One of the issues in managing osteoarthritis so far is that it’s often addressed as one disease, commented Andrea Dell’isola, PT, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher from Lund University who was not involved in the study.

“All of the treatments that have been developed and the treatment process are tailored to take care of one single disease,” he explained. However, “when we look at the characteristics of people with osteoarthritis, we see that roughly 70% of them have other conditions on top of their joint disease.” This high comorbidity rate is significantly higher than in “healthy” people of the same age and sex, he added.

“So, this means that either there is something linked to osteoarthritis that makes people frailer and more likely to develop other diseases, or there may be links between these other diseases, that we often call comorbidities, and osteoarthritis,” Dr. Dell’isola observed.

While the work Dr. Kamps presented looked at the rate of comorbidities that existed before the diagnosis of OA, some of Dr. Dell’isola’s recent research has considered the rate of developing comorbid disease in the years following an OA diagnosis. Associations were found between having hip or knee OA and an increased risk for coexisting depression, cardiovascular diseases, back pain, osteoporosis, and, in the case of knee OA only, diabetes. “It’s interesting to see that certain diseases seem to have a bidirectional association. This means that they can both precede and follow osteoarthritis,” said Dr. Dell’isola. These are just associations, not causation, he stressed, but they might help identify people visiting a doctor for other reasons who may be at risk for developing OA.

“One of the biggest challenges is that once a person develops osteoarthritis, there is not any treatment that can really change their disease,” he added.

Perhaps, “if we can target certain conditions that increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis, and maybe convince people to exercise earlier, or undergo some lifestyle changes early on, we can maybe prevent or delay the onset of the disease,” he suggested.


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