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December 2021

Arthritis of Hand to Affect Almost Half of Adults—and Mostly Women

Research suggests that about 40% of adults will develop osteoarthritis (OA) of the hand at some point in their life. OA of the hand is a common condition that can cause joint pain and stiffness, loss of hand strength and function, and disability.

Older woman with hands folded under her chin.

OA of the hand is more common among women. Nearly 1 in 2 females will develop the condition by age 85, compared to 1 in 4 men. For women, OA of the hand typically occurs after menopause—around age 50. However, arthritis at the base of the thumb often starts earlier—after age 40. Studies suggest that OA of the hand is much more common among women because declining estrogen levels during perimenopause and menopause contribute to the loss of joint cartilage.

Risk factors

Other risk factors for OA that can affect anyone include:

  • Genetics: If a family member has had OA, you’re at greater risk of having it, too.

  • Weight: OA of the hand is more common among people who are overweight or obese.

  • Age: The risk of developing arthritis increases as you get older.

  • Health history: Prior fractures, dislocations, or other injuries to the joint may increase its likelihood of developing OA.

Symptoms and treatment

Talk with your healthcare provider if you experience these symptoms:

  • Pain that feels dull and often occurs in the morning or when using the joint. Overtime, it may progress to a constant, sharp pain.

  • Swelling and tenderness resulting from tissue irritation and damage near the joint.

  • Stiffness. It can become increasingly difficult to open and close your fingers all the way.

  • Looseness or grinding sensation in the affected joint.

  • Boney lumps that develop in or near the finger joints can add to pain and stiffness.

If you have OA of the hand, there are steps you can take to relieve pain and inflammation. Along with hand exercises, common treatments include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): These are used to help ease pain and inflammation from all types of arthritis.

  • Corticosteroids: These medicines are used to control inflammation.

  • Analgesics: These are used to relieve pain, particularly in people who can’t take NSAIDs due to allergies or stomach problems.

  • Surgery: If other treatments don’t improve your symptoms and function, surgery such as finger joint fusion or replacement may be recommended.

 

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2021
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