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Osteoarthritis: Plague of Modernity?

Far from being an inevitable consequence of growing older, osteoarthritis may be the consequence of ‘evolutionary mismatch’ – ancient genes ill-suited to the modern world.

Osteoarthritis is one of our most common chronic health conditions, afflicting an estimated 2.2 million Australians, or 9.3 per cent of the total population (10 per cent of the female population and 6.1 per cent of the male).

The prevalence of this painful and disabling condition, which is characterised by the breakdown of the cartilage that overlies the ends of bones in joints, increases with age: 22 per cent of those aged over 45, and 36 per cent of those aged 75 and over, suffer from osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis is the major diagnosis leading to knee and hip replacement surgery in Australia – and the need for these surgeries is burgeoning. In the decade between 2010–11 and 2020–21, there was a 22 per cent rise in the age-standardised rate of total knee replacement, and a 25 per cent rise in total hip replacement, for people with a principle diagnosis of osteoarthritis:

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