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Dr. James Walentynowicz, St. Luke's Hospital

Osteoarthritis in women

Sometimes conditions present in a multitude of ways. One in particular can alert us to its presence through any of the following: joint pain, stiffness, weakness in our muscles, swelling, loss of motion, creaking in our joints or even sleep issues. If these sound familiar, you may be one of the millions of Americans with osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis, or OA, is the leading type of arthritis and affects more women than men, especially after the age of 50. Risk factors for OA include age, weight, previous joint injury, joint activity and genetics. OA is identified as a disease that affects all parts of the joint - cartilage, ligaments and bone. As these parts of the joint begin to fail, those affected experience various degrees of discomfort. OA typically strikes particular parts of the body including joints in your hands, neck, lower back, knees and hips.

According to a study in Arthritis Care & Research, women have another reason to take notice of the disease. Researchers found that women with OA had a 17 percent increased risk of hospitalization for cardiovascular disease. Although no particular reason was found, researchers believe inflammation, which is common with OA, plays a role. In addition, OA limits mobility, and less activity can lead to cardiovascular issues.

Another interesting development with regard to women and OA comes from a study by Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. According to researchers, women with OA who drank low fat or skim milk were able to delay the progression of their disease in knee joints. In fact, the space between the bones in the knee narrowed less for women who drank up to seven eight-ounce glasses of milk per week than women who drank no milk at all. Researchers add that women who drink milk may already partake in a healthy lifestyle, which may have affected the results. However, milk has long been the focus for promoting healthy bone structure, and these findings strengthen support for that.

Treatment for OA can include exercise, weight loss, rest, pain relief techniques, medication, topical creams, injections, therapy and surgery. Discuss with your physician which options are best for you.

Dr. James Walentynowicz specializes in orthopedic surgery at St. Luke's Hospital. To register for a free talk about orthopedic conditions and treatment options on September 23, 2014, visit this Spotlight page or call 314-542-4848.

This article was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on September 4, 2014.