A follow up study was carried out in 1990 on 169 well documented patients initially presenting with osteoarthritis of the hands or knees between 1975 and 1977. Radiographic change in the knee was used as the outcome measure. Sixty three subjects had paired knee radiographs a mean of 11 years apart and were 69 (range 52-87) years old at follow up. Thirty subjects were known to have died, 28 were untraceable, and 48 were traced but did not have paired films available. The films were read independently and blind to time sequence by two observers using five different radiological scoring methods. Most of the knees did not increase in Kellgren and Lawrence grade, with only 33% deteriorating over the time period. The results were similar when a subject was categorised by their worst knee. When a more sensitive global score on paired films was used 50% of knees showed a slight deterioration and 10% improved. Visual analogue pain scores remained unchanged. Those with knee pain at baseline had a greater chance of progressing, as did those with existing osteoarthritis in the contralateral knee. These results suggest that most patients with osteoarthritis attending rheumatology clinics do not deteriorate radiographically or symptomatically over an 11 year period. More work is needed in the selection and early detection of subjects with a poor prognosis and in focusing early intervention on this high risk group.
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