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More than 3.1 million Australians were estimated to be affected by arthritis in 2007-08, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, A snapshot of arthritis in Australia 2010, found that the prevalence of arthritis increased from 13.6% in 2001 to 15.2% in 2007-08.
'This increase can be largely attributed to Australia's ageing population,' said Dr Naila Rahman, of the AIHW's National Centre for Monitoring Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions.
'The rate of arthritis increases with age, especially after the age of 45, and is highest among those aged over 75 years. An older population means a higher prevalence of the disease.'
Among these older groups, women make up a substantially higher proportion of sufferers.
'Overall, arthritis is seen mostly in women. However, in the younger age group-those aged between 22 and 44 years-it is slightly more common in men,' Dr Rahman said.
Other factors, such as socioeconomic status, were also found to affect the prevalence of the disease.
'Arthritis occurs less frequently among those living in high socioeconomic areas, compared to Australians living in relatively low socioeconomic areas,' Dr Rahman said.
'A regional difference was also found, with the lowest rates of arthritis in major cities, and inner regional areas recording the highest prevalence.'
Indigenous Australians were also found to have a higher prevalence of arthritis than other Australians.
There are over 100 types of arthritis, with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis the most common, affecting 1.6 million and 428,000 Australians respectively.
'All types of arthritis can severely damage joints, but osteoarthritis in particular damages large joints such as the knee and hip,' Dr Rahman said.
'Osteoarthritis is also the major factor underlying joint replacements, most notably of the knee or hip,' she said.
Between 2000-01 and 2007-08, the number of knee replacements increased by 67%, while hip replacements increased by 40% over the same period.
Arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions accounted for around $4 billion in health expenditure in 2004-05. Arthritis is also the eighth most frequently managed problem by general practitioners in Australia.
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