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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern Study Predicts Knee Osteoarthritis Using MRIs on Patients with Normal X-Rays

People who are at higher risk to develop knee osteoarthritis (OA) from being overweight or having injured their knee in the past may have normal x-rays, but worsening lesions or damage appearing on their MRIs predicts a significantly higher risk of soon developing knee osteoarthritis or painful symptoms, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study.

Depending on the type of lesion, their risk of developing knee OA within three years as diagnosed by x-ray is three to 20 times greater.

“These worsening lesions are an early warning sign and an opportunity to intervene before a person develops the debilitating disease,” said lead investigator Dr. Leena Sharma. “If we employ aggressive prevention strategies in persons with these lesions before they develop knee osteoarthritis, we may be able to delay disease development or alter its course.”

Dr. Sharma is a faculty member at the Buehler Center on Aging, Health and Society-Institute for Public Health and Medicine.

Prevention strategies include paying attention to weight and carefully reviewing physical activity to avoid potentially damaging activity and injury, said Dr. Sharma, also a Northwestern Medicine rheumatologist.

This is the first study to examine and determine the impact of knee lesions in persons at higher risk for knee OA with normal x-rays. Previously, it was not known whether the lesions predicted the new development of OA or future symptoms such as frequent knee pain. Many scientists had thought these lesions were insignificant and simply the result of aging, though in the last few years, the lesions have sparked more suspicion.

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