Objective: To examine the natural history, role of risk factors, and incidence of knee osteoarthritis (OA) in a prospective study of women from a population cohort.
Methods: Women from the Chingford Study who had been recruited in 1989 were followed up with knee radiographs 4 years later. A total of 715 paired radiographs (71% of the original sample) were graded for osteophytes and 644 for joint space narrowing (JSN). Women whose radiographs had been graded as 0 in 1989 and as > or =14 years later were classified as having incident disease. Incident cases were compared with controls for associations with a number of risk factors.
Results: Eighty-one women (12.6%) developed JSN of the knee, equating to an incidence of 3.1% per year. No clear risk factors for JSN were identified. Reproducibility of measures of joint space is poor, however, leading to inaccuracy of definition. Incident knee osteophytes developed in 95 women (133%), equating to an incidence of 3.3% per year. Compared with controls, women with incident knee osteophytes were older, heavier, and had more hand OA and knee symptoms. Women in the top tertile of obesity (body mass index >26.4) had a significantly increased risk of incident knee osteophytes (odds ratio [OR] 2.38, 95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.29-4.39). Incident knee osteophytes increased by 20% per 5-year age increase. A nonsignificant protective effect for incident knee osteophytes was seen with current estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) (OR 0.41, 95% CI 0.12-1.42). No effect was associated with smoking, physical activity, hysterectomy, or previous knee injury.
Conclusion: Obesity and aging are associated with a high risk of new knee OA developing in women. Evidence of a protective effect of ERT was seen. No clear association was found for incident JSN, suggesting that different etiologic mechanisms are operating or that standard radiographs are an inaccurate measure of incident narrowing.