The natural history and prognostic factors of cartilage loss in osteoarthritis of the knee were studied in subjects from a general population survey on rheumatic diseases in 1975-8. Baseline data were collected by questionnaire, physical examination, and weightbearing anteroposterior knee radiographs. Follow up of the subjects aged 46-68 years with radiological osteoarthritis grade 2-4 (Kellgren) took place in 1988-9. Cartilage loss was assessed by two observers who scored the change in joint space width between two radiographs. Thirty four per cent had cartilage loss. Prognostic factors and adjusted odds ratios (ORs) (95% confidence intervals) were: body mass index OR = 11.1 (3.3 to 37.3) fourth v first quartile; body weight OR = 7.9 (2.6 to 24.0) third v first tertile; age OR = 3.8 (1.1 to 13.4) > 60 v < or = 49 years; Heberden's nodes OR = 6.0 (1.5 to 23.1); clinical diagnosis of generalised osteoarthritis OR = 3.3 (1.3 to 8.3); and previous bow legs or knock knees OR = 5.1 (1.1 to 23.1). The relation of age with cartilage loss was also confounded by the presence of Heberden's nodes or a diagnosis of generalised osteoarthritis. There was no statistically significant relation for gender, meniscectomy, injury, uric acid concentration, chondrocalcinosis, smoking, and occupation related factors, except possibly standing.
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