A survey of the age-sex specific prevalence of joint problems in a population and associated features such as disablement and use of treatment was carried out in 1986 in Calderdale, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom. A postal questionnaire was sent to 25,168 households; 87% were returned, representing households containing 42,826 people aged 16 years and over. Positive answers to a question about pain, swelling, or stiffness in the joints, neck, or back were given by 10,246 subjects, 24% of the population aged 16 years and older, of whom 6181 (60.3%) were women. The rate of reporting of joint problems increased markedly with age, from 5% for subjects aged 16-24 years to 54% for those aged 85 years and older. The joint sites most often reported as affected were the knee and the back, with a frequency in the population of about 10%. The increase in joint problems with age was accompanied by an increase in reported morning stiffness of more than half an hour, taking drugs, and disability, but not in reporting seeing a specialist for these conditions. Of those aged 85 years and older who reported joint problems, most also had difficulty or dependence in activities of daily living. The increasing prevalence of joint problems with age has implications for the provision of care, both in the community and in hospitals, especially in view of the aging of the population as a whole. The planning of health services for those with rheumatic disorders needs to take into account the high incidence of joint problems in the population.
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