Osteoarthritis – a national disease

Last modified: December 12, 2019

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that currently affects around 25% of the population over the age of 45 in Sweden. However, there are many people who are still going around undiagnosed. This may be due to the fact that the symptoms of osteoarthritis – stiffness and joint pain – are often regarded as part and parcel of getting old. Many think that their joints are just quite simply worn out and there is nothing they can do about this. However, this isn’t the case. It may be a chronic disease, but osteoarthritis can be both prevented and relieved.

What is a national disease?

For a disease to be classified as a national disease, it needs to have a high occurrence rate among the population. Given that one in four people over the age of 45 in Sweden suffer from osteoarthritis, which equates to 800,000 people, this disease is therefore considered to be a national disease. Other examples of national diseases are heart and vascular diseases (such as strokes and heart attacks), diabetes, and asthma.

Many national diseases are, more or less, lifestyle-related. This is also true of osteoarthritis. For this reason, it is important that the population is familiar with the most common national diseases. Knowledge increases the opportunities to prevent and treat the conditions. In general, they are actually things that most of us are already familiar with. To prevent problems in the future, we should, for instance, eat lots of fruit and vegetables, do some exercise every day, and avoid cigarettes and alcohol. This advice can not only prevent a number of diseases, but can also help relieve osteoarthritis.

What is osteoarthritis and what causes it?

Osteoarthritis is a joint disease that primarily affects cartilage in the joints. The disease is caused by the tissue breaking down more quickly than it can build up again. As the cartilage functions as a gliding surface and also distributes the load being exerted on the joints, this will make the joints more difficult to use. However, osteoarthritis can also affect the joints largely through the formation of new bone.

The disease is hereditary to some extent, but it is also related to lifestyle. For example, excessive strain, inactivity, and previous joint damage can increase the risk of osteoarthritis. Anyone carrying out a heavy, monotonous job that puts a strain on their joints is affected more often by the condition. If people are familiar with the risk factors, they can still avoid getting the disease to a large extent. Influencing the basic causes of the disease is also the best way to relieve osteoarthritis.

Read more about the risk factors.

How does osteoarthritis affect society on the whole?

With so many people being affected by osteoarthritis, the disease entails a major cost to society. Diseases affecting the musculoskeletal system actually account for a quarter of all the days lost through sickness, with osteoarthritis being accountable for a significant proportion of them. Anyone who has been diagnosed with osteoarthritis of the knee joint is at double the risk of going off work sick, compared with the overall population. As osteoarthritis is a chronic disease, this also often means that long periods of sick leave are involved.

Even though many people go on sick leave with osteoarthritis, many employers have little knowledge about this. Therefore, it may be a good idea to read up about the disease, or else talk to a physiotherapist or doctor about it. After this, you can talk to your boss about adapting work tasks or working hours. This can make it easier to continue working or to return after being on sick leave. It might also help relieve the osteoarthritis in the long run.

Osteoarthritis also involves numerous operations, mainly prosthetic hip and knee implants. It is likely that the patients could have avoided some of these operations if they had been given access to a personalized, supervised exercise program in time. Statistics from the Swedish Hip Prosthesis Register show that only 43% of those who received a hip replacement have attended osteoarthritis classes.

Further reading: 10 things that everyone should know about osteoarthritis.