To investigate the prevalence of osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee in elderly subjects, we studied the Framingham Heart Study cohort, a population-based group. During the eighteenth biennial examination, we evaluated the cohort members for OA of the knee by use of medical history, physical examination, and anteroposterior (standing) radiograph of the knees. Radiographs were obtained on 1,424 of the 1,805 subjects (79%). Their ages ranged from 63-94 years (mean 73). Radiographs were read by a radiologist who specializes in bone and joint radiology, and were graded 0-4 according to the scale described by Kellgren and Lawrence. OA was defined as grade 2 changes (definite osteophytes), or higher, in either knee. Radiographic evidence of OA increased with age, from 27% in subjects younger than age 70, to 44% in subjects age 80 or older. There was a slightly higher prevalence of radiographic changes of OA in women than in men (34% versus 31%); however, there was a significantly higher proportion of women with symptomatic disease (11% of all women versus 7% of all men; P = 0.003). The age-associated increase in OA was almost entirely the result of the marked age-associated increase in the incidence of OA in the women studied. This study extends current knowledge about OA of the knee to include elderly subjects, and shows that the prevalence of knee OA increases with age throughout the elderly years.