Obesity appears to raise the risk, researchers note

May 04, 2017

THURSDAY, May 4, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- If you have stiff, aching fingers and hands, you're not alone -- a new study reports that 40 percent of people will be affected by the pain of arthritis in at least one hand.

The rate seen in the new research is "just slightly below the percentage of osteoarthritis seen in knees and is significantly greater than that seen in hips," noted Dr. Daniel Polatsch. He's co-director of the New York Hand & Wrist Center at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Arthritis "affects hand strength and function and causes difficulty doing activities of daily living," Polatsch said.

The study team was led by Jin Qin, of the Arthritis Program at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers looked at 1999-2010 data on more than 2,200 people from North Carolina. All people in the study were aged 45 or older.

The information collected included symptoms the participants reported as well as hand X-rays.

Women were at higher risk than men, with nearly half of women (47 percent) developing hand arthritis. Only about a quarter of men had hand arthritis, Qin's team said. Whites were more prone to the ailment than blacks, with rates of 41 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

Excess weight was also a risk factor for hand arthritis. Lifetime risk among obese people was 47 percent, compared to 36 percent for non-obese people, the study found.

Dr. Steven Carsons is chief of rheumatology at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y. He said the finding that hand arthritis is more common in women "has been long thought to have a genetic and hormonal basis."

The obesity link is more intriguing, Carsons said.

"While obesity has always been assumed to be a risk factor for osteoarthritis of weight-bearing joints, such as the knee, these data reveal the somewhat surprising association of obesity and lifetime risk of development of hand osteoarthritis," he said.

Recent studies have suggested that obesity may set up "systemic inflammation" in the body, Carsons said, which may raise the odds of arthritis in a non-weight-bearing joint, such as the hand.

Because arthritis in the hands can be disabling, Polatsch said, "treatment options and access to hand specialists need to improve in order to minimize the impact of this potentially disabling condition in our aging population."

The study was published May 4 in Arthritis & Rheumatology.

More information

Find out more about arthritis at the Arthritis Foundation.

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