Arthritis is an umbrella term for a wide range of inflammatory conditions affecting the bones, muscles and joints. This often results in pain, stiffness, swelling and redness in affected joints. Age, overweight and obesity, injury and genetic factors increase the risk of developing arthritis. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout are common types of arthritis.
How common is arthritis?
1 in 7 Australians have a form of arthritis.
Almost 1 in 3 (29%) Australians had a musculoskeletal condition in 2017–18, an estimated 7.0 million people. Arthritis – including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and ‘other type and unknown’ – affects an estimated 3.6 million (15%) Australians, based on self-reported data from the ABS National Health Survey 2017–18 (ABS 2018). Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are the most common forms of arthritis (Figure 1):
- osteoarthritis is a chronic condition characterised by the deterioration of the cartilage that overlies the ends of bones in joints. Approximately 2.2 million Australians (9.3%) have osteoarthritis, affecting 12% of females and 6.8% of males (ABS 2018) in 2017–18.
- rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. Approximately 456,000 Australians (1.9%) have rheumatoid arthritis, affecting 2.3% of females and 1.5% of males (ABS 2018) in 2017–18.
Figure 1: Prevalence of self-reported arthritis in Australia, by arthritis type and sex, 2017–18
Note: refers to people who self-reported that they were diagnosed by a doctor or nurse as having arthritis (current and long term) and also people who self-reported having arthritis.
Source: ABS 2018 (Data table).
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
According to self-reported data from the ABS 2018–19 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS), the prevalence of arthritis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was 10.5%, affecting about 85,600 people – including about 8,800 who live in remote areas (5.9% of the remote Indigenous population).
After adjusting for age, more females (19.2%) were affected by the condition than males (13.4%), and the proportion of Indigenous Australians with arthritis (16.5%) was slightly higher than that for non-Indigenous Australians (13.2%) (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Prevalence of arthritis by Indigenous status, 2018-19
Note: Age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.
Source: ABS 2019a. (Data table).
Impact of arthritis
Arthritis can have a profound impact on a person’s quality of life and wellbeing due to acute and chronic pain, physical limitations, management of the condition and mental health issues. This can often result in withdrawal from social, community and occupational activities (Briggs et al. 2016).
Common forms of arthritis (osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and gout) are large contributors to illness, pain and disability in Australia. Based on data from the Australian Burden of Disease Study 2015, musculoskeletal conditions were responsible for 13% of the total burden of disease (approximately 611,300 disability-adjusted life years (DALY)). Of this proportion, osteoarthritis contributed 19% of disease burden, rheumatoid arthritis contributed 15%, and gout contributed 0.9%. The remaining burden was attributed to ‘other musculoskeletal conditions’ (33%) and ‘back pain and problems’ (32%) (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Musculoskeletal conditions burden (DALY), by disease, 2015
Source: AIHW 2019b.
Perceived health status
Although arthritis affects people of all ages, its prevalence increases sharply from the age of 45 years.
According to the ABS 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS), people aged 45 and over with arthritis are less likely to perceive their health as excellent or very good than people without the condition. Conversely, people with arthritis were twice as likely to describe their health as poor (11%) compared with those without arthritis (4%) (Figure 4).
1 in 10 people with arthritis described their health as poor.
Figure 4: Self-assessed health of people aged 45 and over with and without arthritis, 2017–18
Note: Age-standardised to the 2001 Australian population.
Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 2019b. (Data table).