Osteoarthritis of the hand

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Osteoarthritis of the hands usually happens as part of nodal osteoarthritis (a form of osteoarthritis that runs in families). This mainly affects women and often starts in your 40s or 50s, around the menopause (the time when menstruation ends and it’s no longer possible to have children).

  • Osteoarthritis of the hand usually affects the base of your thumb and the joints at the ends of your fingers, although other finger joints can also be affected.
  • At times these joints become swollen and tender, especially when the condition first appears.
  • Over several years, firm knobbly swellings form on the finger joints. These are caused by osteophytes and are known as Heberden’s nodes when they’re at the end joints of your fingers or Bouchard’s nodes when they’re at the mid-finger joints. Once the nodes are fully formed, the pain and tenderness often improve.
  • Although the fingers are knobbly and sometimes slightly bent, they usually still work well. Arthritis at the base of your thumb may cause longer-lasting problems.

Having nodal osteoarthritis in middle age means you’re more likely to develop osteoarthritis of the knee, and possibly other joints, as you get older. Nodal osteoarthritis is especially likely to be passed from mother to daughter. It’s not yet known which genes are involved so it’s not possible to test for this.

OA of the hand with Heberden's nodes

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