Background: A recent study of adults aged >or=50 years reporting knee pain found an excess of radiographic knee osteoarthritis (knee ROA) in symptomatic males compared to females. This was independent of age, BMI and other clinical signs and symptoms. Since this finding contradicts many previous studies, our objective was to explore four possible explanations for this gender difference: X-ray views, selection, occupation and non-articular conditions.
Methods: A community-based prospective study. 819 adults aged >or=50 years reporting knee pain in the previous 12 months were recruited by postal questionnaires to a research clinic involving plain radiography (weight-bearing posteroanterior semiflexed, supine skyline and lateral views), clinical interview and physical examination. Any knee ROA, ROA severity, tibiofemoral joint osteoarthritis (TJOA) and patellofemoral joint osteoarthritis (PJOA) were defined using all three radiographic views. Occupational class was derived from current or last job title. Proportions of each gender with symptomatic knee ROA were expressed as percentages, stratified by age; differences between genders were expressed as percentage differences with 95% confidence intervals.
Results: 745 symptomatic participants were eligible and had complete X-ray data. Males had a higher occurrence (77%) of any knee ROA than females (61%). In 50-64 year olds, the excess in men was mild knee OA (particularly PJOA); in >or=65 year olds, the excess was both mild and moderate/severe knee OA (particularly combined TJOA/PJOA). This male excess persisted when using the posteroanterior view only (64% vs. 52%). The lowest level of participation in the clinic was symptomatic females aged 65+. Within each occupational class there were more males with symptomatic knee ROA than females. In those aged 50-64 years, non-articular conditions were equally common in both genders although, in those aged 65+, they occurred more frequently in symptomatic females (41%) than males (31%).
Conclusion: The excess of knee ROA among symptomatic males in this study seems unlikely to be attributable to the use of comprehensive X-ray views. Although prior occupational exposures and the presence of non-articular conditions cannot be fully excluded, selective non-participation bias seems the most likely explanation. This has implications for future study design.