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Arthritis Health Center

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Some Arthritis Sufferers Suffering Needlessly

WebMD Health News

April 5, 2000 (Cleveland) --People with severe arthritis of the hips and knees -- especially women -- should talk to their doctors about surgery that can alleviate pain and improve functioning in these joints. Not only is the surgery, known as arthroplasty, underused in men and women, but also women are three times less likely to have this surgery.

This is particularly troubling because women are more likely to have arthritis and are more disabled by it than men, according to a study in today's The New England Journal of Medicine. Studies have also shown that women are more likely to benefit from arthroplasty because their arthritis tends to have worse symptoms.

"If you have severe hip and knee arthritis, ask your doctor what can be done to help relieve your pain. It may not be surgery, but there are other things such as exercise, weight loss, and some other medications that can help. Patients need to know about these too," Elizabeth M. Badley, PhD, tells WebMD. Badley, a co-author of the study, is director of the Arthritis Community Research and Evaluation Unit at Wellesley Hospital and a professor at the University of Toronto.

Arthroplasty shapes or reforms the joints to reduce pain and help the joint move better. Various types of arthroplastic procedures are available for both the knee and the hip, including total hip and knee replacement. The best candidates for arthroplasty include people who have diseased or injured knees or hips that are painful and stiff. These joints often cause changes in walking and lower the person's quality of life.

According to Mary E. Charlson, MD, who wrote the editorial accompanying the study, the success rates of these surgeries to repair joints is high, and people can benefit greatly from them. "Hip and knee replacements are surgical procedures that will preserve functional independence and prevent disability among patients who have severe joint disease," she tells WebMD. "This is a treatable problem. These procedures have a high degree of success in restoring people's function and preventing disability."

People with arthritis of the knees or hips and their doctors should watch for gradual changes instead of just immediate ones, says Charlson, who is chief of the division of general internal medicine at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York.

"The changes may be gradual. [Patients] gradually do less and less, and then suddenly they're no longer able to go to the store, etc., and then they are functionally impaired," Charlson tells WebMD.

Charlson adds that more education and awareness among women of the benefits of arthroplasty are needed. Also, meeting someone who has undergone a successful arthroplasty may ease fears of the procedure.

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