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What is osteoarthritis? 

What is osteoarthritis?
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date: 30 October 2020

This brief introductory chapter summarizes some of the key clinical and structural features of osteoarthritis (OA) and highlights some general observations and concepts concerning the nature of OA. General observations include the preservation of OA throughout human evolution; the occurrence of OA in many other animals; the dynamic, metabolically active nature of OA pathophysiology; the fact that most OA never associates with symptoms or functional impairment; and the good outcome in many cases of symptomatic OA. Such observations support the concept of OA as the inherent repair process of synovial joints, which can be triggered by a range of diverse insults and in which all the joint tissues are involved. Aetiologically, OA is a common complex disorder with recognized genetic, constitutional, and environmental risk factors, and these may combine in multiple ways to cause marked variation in phenotypic presentation and in some instances ‘joint failure’ with associated symptoms and disability. Within the spectrum of OA are some discrete subsets, the best defined being nodal generalized OA. However, in many people OA does not fit neatly into one type and its phenotypic characteristics may change as it evolves. Two striking associations of OA are with ageing and with crystal deposition, especially calcium crystals but also urate crystals, and there are a number of possible mechanisms to explain these.

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