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Arthritis research

Press release issued: 17 August 2001

Bristol Doctors to investigate causes of common form of arthritis

Doctors in Bristol are to investigate whether psychosocial factors play a part in the development of osteoarthritis, by studying almost 3,000 people in Somerset and Avon.

Professor Paul Dieppe and Dr Peter Jüni at the University of Bristol's Department of Social Medicine have been awarded £126,604 from the Arthritis Research Campaign to carry out the 18-month research project. The team want to establish if factors such as isolation, lack of education, and feelings of helplessness are important in the progression of osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.

The 2,700 patients with chronic knee and hip pain were last examined in 1994/5 as part of the Somerset and Avon Survey of Health. They will now be followed up by means of a questionnaire, clinical examination and radiographs to see how their condition has deteriorated in the intervening years.

Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common degenerative form of arthritis which affects around 1.5 m older people in the UK, leading to pain and swelling in the joints. Until recently it was regarded as being simply a wear and tear condition and an inevitable part of the ageing process, but research has shown that evidence of joint damage provided by X-rays bears little relation to the amount of pain and disability suffered. Conversely, some people whose X-rays reveal severe joint damage experience little or no pain.

This has led the Bristol team at the MRC Health Services Research Collaboration to question whether psychological and social factors are involved in the development of the condition.

'Some small scale studies suggest that pain and disability are not simply the consequence of structural damage, but the result of a complex interaction between joint damage, the health of the patient, and psychosocial factors,' explained Dr Jüni.

'We want to find out if disability is more related to the way people are socially isolated or uneducated about their condition than to the amount of joint damage that can be seen in X-rays. Central pain processing mechanisms depend a lot of feelings of being helpless or being able to understand what is going on with the condition.

'We want to find out what factors really contribute to the progression of knee and hip OA in the community, and what could be done to prevent severe disease.'

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Copyright: 2001 The University of Bristol, UK
Updated: Friday, 17-Aug-2001 10:16:56 BST

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