Can Arthritis Kill You? Time to Start Searching for New Arthritis Treatments

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Most people think of common osteoarthritis arthritis as just painful, but otherwise benign. However, what if it was associated with a higher risk of dying? Would that cause us all to look for new arthritis treatments?

Medical illustration showing one half of the knee affected by osteoarthritis and the other half by rheumatoid arthritis

Designua/Shutterstock

Osteoarthritis (OA) is when a joint loses cartilage and the bones begin to change shape. It can be associated with pain, stiffness, and swelling. Unlike rheumatoid arthritis which is rarer and due to severe pathologic inflammation, OA is the much more common problem due to wear and tear. More recent research has also shown a significant nerve component and that the joint also contains a toxic stew of chemicals that can cause pain and further joint breakdown.

The Centers for Disease control (CDC) is known as a no nonsense organization. While most people think of the CDC as the government agency tracking outbreaks in Hollywood films, they also track more common diseases like arthritis. Their web-site has some very concerning statistics about OA. Turns out that several studies have associated OA with a higher risk of dying from various diseases.

For example, death due to any cause is 60% higher in patients with arthritis. Death due to heart disease or dementia is 70% higher and twice as likely when a patient has OA. They also note that deaths due to OA are likely under-estimated, as the number of patients that die from stomach bleeding or heart attacks from the chronic use of NSAID drugs to help their arthritis pain are likely highly underestimated.

The upshot? If you have osteoarthritis, there are two things that are likely increasing your risk of dying from these diseases. First, less activity causes a higher risk. Second, higher levels of whole body inflammation likely also cause an elevated risk of death. So if you have wear and tear arthritis, rather than throwing dangerous NSAID drugs at the problem, make sure you get it treated. Newer autologous biologic therapies (like using your own blood platelets or stem cells) may help you get more active and avoid dangerous drugs. They may also save your life!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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