Osteoarthritis - characteristics, prevalence, and burden

Date: July 4, 2024
Read time: 3 minutes

Osteoarthritis is the most common joint disorder (1) and represents the primary target for the applications of ZPD's ingredients. Explore the key features of osteoarthritis, its prevalence in society, and the impact it has on individuals.


Understanding osteoarthritis: causes and symptoms

Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disease that primarily affects the cartilage in the joints. It is characterized by the breakdown and eventual loss of cartilage, leading to common symptoms as pain, stiffness, and limited range of motion.

For a long time, osteoarthritis was labeled as a “wear and tear” disease pointing to the loading of the joints as the main cause of the disease (2). However, recently it has been recognized that low-grade inflammation also plays a role in the pathogenesis (2). The exact cause of osteoarthritis is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic factors, aging, joint injuries, and obesity.



Prevalence of osteoarthritis: who is affected?

Osteoarthritis is a highly prevalent condition affecting millions of people worldwide. Globally, approximately 530 million people live with the condition, a number that has significantly increased over the past three decades due to longer life expectancy and higher average body weight (3).

It is more common in older individuals, with the risk of developing osteoarthritis increasing with age. Factors, such as obesity and repetitive joint stress, can also increase the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis. Furthermore, women are more likely to develop osteoarthritis than men and the prevalence rates are in general higher in the more industrialised countries (see figure below).



age adjusted prevalence of oa_long.png

The map shows the age-standardized prevalence rates (ASR) of osteoarthritis in 2019 for both sexes combined in 204 countries and territories.

Figure from  Long H. et al., Arthritis Rheumatol, 2022 


The burden of osteoarthritis: impact on daily life

The pain and stiffness associated with the disease can make it difficult to perform simple tasks, such as walking, climbing stairs, or even getting dressed. These symptoms tend to worsen over time and can significantly impact a person's quality of life. It can also affect a person's ability to work and participate in recreational activities. In fact, an analysis of a compilation of various surveys, databases, disease registers, and epidemiologic studies found that osteoarthritis was the seventh leading cause of disability in women and the twelfth leading cause in men in the USA (1996) (4). Among people 65 to 74 years of age, the disease was found to be the fifth largest cause of disability, ahead of dementia, diabetes, prostate cancer, and breast cancer (4). Furthermore, the economic burden for the individual and society in terms of treatment of OA, sick leave, and early retirement is substantial. E.g., in Denmark, the proportion of premature retirement due to OA is 29.6% (5). 



Treatment options for osteoarthritis

There are various treatment options available for osteoarthritis, depending on the severity of the disease and the individual's symptoms.

Non-pharmacological treatments, such as exercise, weight management, and physical therapy, can help improve joint function and reduce pain.

Medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and analgesics, may be prescribed to manage pain and inflammation but these are associated with adverse events. Furthermore, chondroitin sulfate and glucosamine are also popular as symptom- and disease-modifying drugs (6), and they have the advantage that no adverse events are associated with their use (7).    

For severe cases of osteoarthritis, surgical interventions, such as joint replacement surgery, may be necessary to alleviate pain and restore joint function.



1. Singh JA, Noorbaloochi S, MacDonald R, Maxwell LJ. Chondroitin for osteoarthritis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 28. januar 2015;1(1):CD005614.

2. Englund M. Osteoarthritis, part of life or a curable disease? A bird’s-eye view. J Intern Med. juni 2023;293(6):681–93.

3. Long H, Liu Q, Yin H, Wang K, Diao N, Zhang Y, Lin J, Guo A. Prevalence Trends of Site-Specific Osteoarthritis From 1990 to 2019: Findings From the Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2022 Jul;74(7):1172-1183.

4. Michaud CM, McKenna MT, Begg S, Tomijima N, Majmudar M, Bulzacchelli MT, m.fl. The burden of disease and injury in the United States 1996. Popul Health Metr. 18. oktober 2006;4:11.

5. Sundhedsstyrelsen. Sygdomsbyrden i Danmark - sygdomme [Internet]. Sundhedsstyrelsen; 2022. Available at: https://www.sst.dk/-/media/Udgivelser/2023/Sygdomsbyrden-2023/Sygdomme-Sygdomsbyrden-2023.ashx

6. McAlindon TE, LaValley MP, Gulin JP, Felson DT. Glucosamine and chondroitin for treatment of osteoarthritis: a systematic quality assessment and meta-analysis. JAMA. 2000 Mar 15;283(11):1469-75. 

7. Aweid O, Haider Z, Saed A, Kalairajah Y. Treatment modalities for hip and knee osteoarthritis: A systematic review of safety. J Orthop Surg (Hong Kong). 2018 May-Aug;26(3):2309499018808669.