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What Is Erosive Osteoarthritis?

A Subset of Generalized Osteoarthritis


Updated May 16, 2014

Erosive osteoarthritis is considered a subtype of osteoarthritis. Erosive osteoarthritis is sometimes referred to as inflammatory osteoarthritis, which seems like a contradictory term to many people who believe osteoarthritis is not associated with inflammation.

Initially, symptoms of erosive osteoarthritis may be confused with rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis. Erosive osteoarthritis is primarily characterized by erosions of cartilage in the hands. Middle-aged or post-menopausal women are most commonly affected. Studies have shown evidence of erosions in other joints too but the severe, aggressive type of hand disease associated with erosive osteoarthritis defines the disease.

Erosive osteoarthritis can begin suddenly with pain, tenderness, and swelling present. The joint closest to the fingertips (distal interphalangeal joints) of the hand are most frequently involved. The joint closest to the knuckles (proximal interphalangeal joints) are the next most commonly involved joints with erosive osteoarthritis. (Illustration of finger joints). The knuckles and larger joints are involved occasionally.

Women are more affected by erosive osteoarthritis than males, 12 to 1. As for diagnostic testing, there may be mild elevation of the sedimentation rate, but generally, blood tests for inflammation are negative. X-rays reveal typical erosions and "gull-wing" deformity associated with erosive osteoarthritis.

The cause of erosive osteoarthritis is unknown, but hormones, metabolic disorders, and autoimmunity are suspect. A better understanding of the cause may produce better treatment options, but for now, treatment of erosive osteoarthritis focuses on physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and prednisone.

Hand deformity and impaired hand function are definite concerns with erosive osteoarthritis. Treatment plans should be periodically reviewed to minimize damage from the condition.

Erosive Osteoarthritis. Leonardo Punzi MD, PhD. <http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S15216942040009447> Best Practice & Clinical Rheumatology. Vol.18. Issue 5. October 2004.
Erosive Osteoarthritis: Is it a separate disease entity? M. Cobby et. al. <http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0009926005821142> Clinical Radiology. Vol. 42. Issue 4. October 1990.
Erosive Osteoarthritis. Linda R. Belhorn, et.al. <http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0049017205800095> Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism. Vol. 22. Issue 5. April 1993.

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