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Surge in Knee-Replacement Surgeries; Obesity to be Blamed

Update Date: Sep 26, 2012 08:31 AM EDT

A new study suggests that an increasing number of senior citizens are seeking knee-replacement surgeries mostly because of the desire to stay active and due to joint-damaging obesity.

For the study, researchers analyzed the cases of more than 3 million Medicare patients, aged 65 and above, who got artificial knees from 1991 through 2010. Among them, about 10 percent surgeries were a second time operation -- replacing worn-out artificial joints.

In 2010, the number of initial knee-replacement surgeries more than doubled with the numbers rising to nearly 244,000. Also, during the study, the age group of people who went for the surgery also came down from mid-70s on average.

Every year, about 600,000 knee replacement surgeries are conducted nationwide on adults of all ages, costing a total of $9 billion, the authors said.

Apart from the increasing number of aging population and rising numbers of Medicare enrollees who would have contributed to the increase, there was also an increase in the per capita rate. From 3 surgeries per 10,000 enrollees in 1991, the numbers rose to 5 surgeries per 10,000 in 2010.

"There's a huge percentage of older adults who are living longer and want to be active," and knee replacement surgery is very effective, said lead author Dr. Peter Cram, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Iowa, according to Washington Post.

However, the rate of growth of patients opting for the surgery has gone down in recent times, perhaps because many people have been getting artificial knees, which typically last 15 to 20 years, the report said. Another factor that could be held responsible for the slow pace of growth of patients could be the troubled economy which might have reduced the demand of the operation that costs about $15,000, the study authors said.

Experts predict that by 2030, the numbers might rise to as many as 4 million knee operations per year.

About 12 percent of the knee-replacement surgeries are opted for by older, obese patients. Obesity affects the joints and contributes to arthritis, leading the patient to seek knee-replacement.  

The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

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