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Obesity might be involved in the pathogenesis of osteoarthritis (OA) not only via increased mechanical loading, but also via an inflammatory component possibly causing increased pain and functional disability. The study aim was to examine the relationship between BMI and clinical symptoms as well as radiographic severity of OA in patients scheduled for primary total hip arthroplasty (THA). We conducted a cross-sectional study of 855 patients scheduled for a first THA for primary OA at a single centre between November 2001 and December 2006. The primary outcome was clinical and radiographic severity of OA, which was evaluated in four BMI categories (18.5–24.9, 25–29.9, 30–34.9 and ≥35 kg/m2). We used the Harris Hip Score (HHS) and the Western Ontario McMaster Universities Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) to assess pain and function. The severity of radiographic hip joint damage was evaluated using the Kellgren–Lawrence classification. Multivariate analyses were performed to adjust for potential confounders. In patients scheduled for THA, increasing BMI was associated with significantly higher levels of pain and functional disability on both HHS (P for trend <0.001) and WOMAC (P for trend <0.001). However, the degree of radiographic joint damage remained similar across BMI categories. These findings emphasize the need to further investigate the potential pathogenic role of obesity and low-grade inflammation in OA and underscore the importance of obesity prevention to avoid early prosthetic replacement of the hip.