Osteoarthritis: Causes & Risk Factors

Osteoarthritis (OA) can be caused by aging and wear on your joints. But obesity, overuse or injury can also contribute to the disease. Knowing your risk factors may help explain how you might have gotten the disease. And help you avoid further damage.

Common risk factors for osteoarthritis include:

  • Age. The older you get, the more likely you are to develop OA. Most people are diagnosed with OA after age 45. By the age of 65, half the population has X-ray evidence of osteoarthritis in at least one joint. You are not alone!
  • Gender. While more men than women under age 45 have OA, women have a higher total risk of developing OA. By age 55, more women than men have the disease.
  • Weight. Carrying excess bodyweight puts you at a higher risk of developing OA. Unwanted pounds cause extra pressure on the weight-bearing joints of your knees and hips. Women appear to be more prone for weight related OA since women's joints are designed differently and cannot take the same load that men can.
  • Joint injury or overuse. Performing the same movement repeatedly can increase OA risk. Recreational athletes and people whose jobs require repetitive movements are more likely to damage joint cartilage and develop the disease.
  • Joint defects. Joints that are not properly formed can lead to OA. Genetic and hereditary joint problems also increase OA risk.
  • Muscle weakness. Strong muscles around joints absorb shock to the joints. People with very weak muscles may experience more joint damage and eventually develop OA.
  • Estrogen deficiency. Recent research suggests that low levels of estrogen put women at higher risk for OA. Some experts think estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) may reduce the risk of knee and hip OA.
  • Other diseases. People with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to develop OA. Diseases like acromegaly (when your body makes too much growth hormone), and hematochromatosis, (having too much iron in your body), can also lead to OA. There are going to be more subtle and less obvious findings identified when our research into genetic and molecular mechanisms begins to pay off.