April 17, 2008 -- The number of hip and knee replacements performed in the U.S. could skyrocket in the next seven years, researchers warn, placing an enormous burden on America's already beleaguered health care system.
An increase in obesity and arthritis -- combined with a larger elderly population -- has prompted a steep rise in these surgeries. Seventy-six million Americans reach retirement age this year, and many baby boomers are right behind them. Since arthritis is more common in older adults, experts predict more and more cases of arthritis in the coming years.
Arthritis affects more than 46 million Americans; it can cause joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. While more common in older adults, arthritis isn't simply an effect of aging. Carrying extra weight also increases a person's risk for arthritis. Maintaining a healthy weight could make you less likely to develop arthritis.
Joint replacement surgery is a popular treatment option for those with severe, debilitating arthritis that causes significant pain or greatly limits their ability to move.
Using data from joint replacement cases in the U.S. from 1997 and 2004, researcher Sunny Kim, PhD, with the Robert Stempel School of Public Health at Florida International University, analyzed the increase in the number of surgeries and their cost.
Her research shows:
- Hip replacements increased 37% and knee replacements increased 53% in 2004 compared with 2000.
- Hip and knee replacement increased significantly among those aged 45-64.
- Medicare paid for most procedures.
- Private insurance payments had steeper increases.
Kim published her findings in the April 14 issue of Arthritis Care & Research. She writes that 600,000 hip replacements and 1.4 million knee replacements could be performed in the year 2015 if current trends persist.
"Public health education is critically important to reduce the proportion of people who are overweight as well as to manage arthritis at earlier stages," she says in a news release. "At the same time, given the steeply increasing trends of joint replacements and the expected number of joint revisions needed, the health care community should be prepared for this upcoming demand of surgical loads and its economic burden on government and private insurance systems."
( Considering a knee replacement? Already had one? Read one man’s journey from surgery to full recovery, and share your own story on WebMD’s Pain Management blog.)