Who gets osteoarthritis?

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in Australia. Self-reported estimates from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2014–15 National Health Survey show that about 2.1 million Australians (9% of the population) have this condition.

Osteoarthritis is more common in females than males. After adjusting for age, 10% of females have osteoarthritis compared to 6% of males.

The prevalence of osteoarthritis rises with age. While relatively few younger people have this condition, from the age of 45 the prevalence rises sharply.

Figure 1: Prevalence of osteoarthritis, by age and sex, 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows that the prevalence of osteoarthritis rises with age. The prevalence is least common in younger people, from the age of 45 the prevalence rises sharply.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata: National Health Survey (NHS) 2014–15 (Data table).

There has been little change in the overall age-standardised prevalence of osteoarthritis over the last four ABS health surveys (2001, 2004–05, 2007–08, 2011–12 and 2014–15).

Table 1: Change in the prevalence (per cent) of osteoarthritis, 2001 to 2014–15
  Males Females Persons
2001 NHS 5.7 9.2 7.5
2004–05 NHS 6.1 9.0 7.7
2007–08 NHS 5.8 9.0 7.8
2011–12 NHS 5.6 10.2 8.0
2014–15 NHS 5.9 10.1 8.1

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 2001, 2004–05, 2007–08, 2011–12 and 2014–15 National Health Surveys.

Osteoarthritis comorbidities

People with osteoarthritis often have other chronic conditions. ‘Comorbidity’ is the term used when two or more health conditions occur at the same time. For this analysis, the selected comorbidities are cardiovascular disease (CVD) back problems, mental health problems, asthma, diabetes, COPD and cancer using self reported data from the ABS National Health Survey 2014–15. Among people with osteoarthritis:

  • 51% report also having CVD compared with 15% of people without osteoarthritis
  • 35% report also having back problems compared with 14% of people without osteoarthritis
  • 18% report also having mental health problems compared with 11% of people without osteoarthritis.

(Note, these components do not total 100% as one person may have more than one comorbidity).

Most chronic conditions are more common in older age groups. The average age of people with osteoarthritis is older than the average age of the general population, so people with osteoarthritis are more likely to have age-related comorbidities. After adjusting for differences in the age structure of people with and without osteoarthritis, the rates of CVD, back problems, mental health problems, asthma and diabetes remained significantly higher for people with osteoarthritis compared to those without. There was no significant difference for COPD and cancer. It is important to note that regardless of the differences in age structures, having multiple chronic health problems or ‘comorbidities’ is often associated with worse health outcomes [1], in addition to a poorer quality of life [2] and more complex clinical management and increased health costs.

Some comorbidities, such as CVD, also reflect the underlying prevalence of these individual chronic conditions in the population.

Figure 2: Prevalence of other chronic conditions in people with osteoarthritis compared to people without osteoarthritis, 2014–15

The vertical bar chart shows that people with osteoarthritis often have other chronic conditions such as, CVD (51%25), back problems (35%25), and mental health problems (18%25), asthma (18%25), diabetes (14%25), chronic obstructive pulomonary disease (COPD) (9%25), and cancer (5%25).

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15 (Data table).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

After adjusting for age, the prevalence of osteoarthritis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is about the same as for total Australians.

Figure 3: Prevalence of osteoarthritis by Indigenous status, 2012–13

The vertical bar chart shows that, after adjusting for age, the prevalenc of osteoarthritis is about the same for Indigenous Australians as for total Australians.

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (unpublished), 2012–13 (Data table).

Inequalities

The prevalence of osteoarthritis is not significantly different in Major cities, Inner regional, and Outer regional and remote areas. In 2014–15, the proportion of Australians who reported having osteoarthritis ranged from 7.7% in Major cities to 9.1 in Inner regional areas and 9.3% in Outer regional and remote areas combined.

The prevalence of osteoarthritis was higher for areas of lowest socioeconomic status (9.5%) compared to areas of highest socioeconomic status (7.2%).

Figure 4: Osteoarthritis prevalence, by remoteness area and socioeconomic group, 2014–15

The horizontal bar chart shows that rates were relatively similar in the prevalence of osteoarthritis between Major cities, Inner regional areas, and Outer regional/Remote Australia. People living in the lowest socioeconomic group (group 1) were more likely to have osteoarthritis compared with those in the highest socioeconomic group (group 5) (9.5%25 and 7.2%25 respectively).

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.

Source: AIHW analysis of ABS Microdata: National Health Survey, 2014–15 (Data table).