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Obesity 'raises risk of osteoarthritis in the hands'

Osteoarthritis of the hands is likely to affect up to four in ten people during their lifetime and obesity may increase the risk of developing the condition, a new study has found. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting more than 30 million people across the US. 

Research by the Arthritis Program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined hand x-rays and symptoms reported by more than 2,200 patients over the age of 45. The data revealed overweight subjects had a higher risk of developing hand arthritis. Almost half (47 percent) of obese people in the study developed hand arthritis, compared to only one-third (36 percent) of non-obese patients. 

Symptoms of osteoarthritis include tenderness, painful joints and stiffness. It occurs when the cartilage is worn down, causing joints to rub together and is common among people with multiple chronic conditions, for example patients with heart disease, diabetes or obesity. Weight loss is often recommended as part of treatment, alongside medication and physical therapy. Drugs commonly prescribed to treat osteoarthritis include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Anaprox (naproxen), and corticosteroids like prednisone

Commenting on the results of the study, chief of rheumatology at NYU Winthrop Hospital Steven Carsons, MD, told HealthDay News: "Obesity has always been assumed to be a risk factor for osteoarthritis of weight-bearing joints, such as the knee." However, the data's revelation of a link between obesity and osteoarthritis in the hands was "somewhat surprising", he added. The medical expert observed recent studies have suggested obesity may set up "systemic inflammation" in the body, potentially raising the chance overweight patients will develop hand osteoarthritis. 

Earlier this month, research published in the journal Radiology found high-risk osteoarthritis patients who lost five percent or more of their weight experienced a slower rate of knee joint degeneration. The study conducted by researchers at the University of California in San Francisco concluded patients who lost weight over 48 months showed significantly lower cartilage degeneration. It also found progression of the disease was more pronounced in patients with greater levels of weight loss.