Objectives and methods: Gender differences in the prevalence and impact of arthritis are discussed, using data and analytic results from national health surveys.
Results: Most cases of arthritis are osteoarthritis, an ancient disease that causes pain, physical dysfunction, and social disability, but not death. Arthritis prevalence rates rise sharply with age; it is the leading chronic condition in mid and late life. Women's rates exceed men's at all ages. Women's higher rates of disability and medical services for arthritis in the population are due mainly to higher prevalence. Among persons with arthritis, women are only a little more likely than men to be disabled or receive medical services. Persons with arthritis often have other chronic conditions as well (called comorbidity). Combining arthritis and visual problems gives a strong exacerbating push to disability.
Conclusions: Because biomedical research emphasizes pathogenesis and therapies for fatal conditions, Americans' health future will become dominated by nonfatal ones, especially arthritis. I recommend a better balance and new orientation for arthritis research that stays true to older persons' health and disability experience.