– Osteoarthritis research doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves in the medical literature, Elizabeth M. Badley, PhD, asserted at the OARSI 2019 World Congress.

Dr. Elizabeth M. Badley, University of Toronto Bruce Jancin/MDedge News

Dr. Elizabeth M. Badley

“Osteoarthritis is by far the most common type of arthritis. There are easily 10 times more people who have osteoarthritis than any other joint disease, but when you look at the literature, the situation is kind of reversed. Osteoarthritis is brushed off by society to a degree,” she said at the meeting, sponsored by the Osteoarthritis Research Society International.

Dr. Bradley and colleagues performed a search of MEDLINE for 2007-2016, which turned up a total of 1,625 publications in 2016 on osteoarthritis, excluding those with an orthopedic surgery focus, compared with 10,904 results regarding the broader topic of joint diseases and 28,932 on musculoskeletal diseases.

The bottom line: “Progress is slow, and at this rate osteoarthritis will not be receiving the attention it deserves in our lifetime,” said Dr. Badley, of the department of epidemiology at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist at the Krembil Research Institute, also in Toronto.

The number of publications per year devoted to OA rose by a robust 88% during 2007-2016, while the number on OA not focused on orthopedic procedures grew by 65%. Both of these increases were greater than those for publications on musculoskeletal diseases and joint diseases overall, which were 41% and 51%, respectively. But the absolute number of OA publications was dwarfed by the numbers of those in the other search categories. For example, the number of publications on OA without an orthopedic surgery thrust was 985 in 2007, compared with 7,204 on joint diseases overall.

Among the striking findings of the investigators’ study of the medical literature was the disconnect between the amount of attention devoted to some of the joint-specific manifestations of OA and the actual prevalence of these conditions in the population. For example, the prevalence of hand OA in people living with OA was 52% according to the 2009 Survey on Living with Chronic Diseases in Canada, conducted by Statistics Canada, yet only 6.5% of the publications on OA in 2016 were devoted to hand/thumb OA. Similarly, the prevalence of spine OA was 52% among Canadians with OA, but only 4.3% of OA publications in 2016 focused on that topic. And while the number of publications devoted to elbow OA soared by a seemingly impressive 233% during the study period, the actual numbers were 3 publications in 2007 and 10 in 2016.

“Also, the average number of affected joints in people with osteoarthritis is four. Yet very, very few papers are about multijoint osteoarthritis. And when they do talk about multijoint osteoarthritis, they’re still only talking about hand/hip/knee. So we’re missing the bigger picture of osteoarthritis as a multijoint disease. We’re missing the spine, largely, as a part of osteoarthritis, and we’re missing the peripheral joints,” she said.

Dr. Badley reported having no financial conflicts regarding her study, conducted free of commercial support.

SOURCE: Badley EM et al. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2019 Apr;27(Suppl 1):S278, Abstract 393.