Is Early Detection of Arthritis in Horses Finally a Reality?

Radiographs (X rays) and low-field MRI appear to be useful tools for diagnosing early-stage arthritis.
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Osteoarthritis (OA) is a progressive deterioration of joint health with no known cure. Not only does OA negatively affect athleticism and quality of life but it is also a major cause of economic loss throughout the equine industry.

For years researchers have been trying to find ways to diagnose OA early in the course of disease to either slow or, better yet, arrest its progression. And although OA has proven a stubborn opponent, an international group of researchers recently found that radiographs (X rays) and low-field MRI appear to be useful tools for diagnosing OA.

“For our study we chose to use Icelandic horses, a breed that is known to have a high prevalence of OA and one in which a large number of older riding horses are culled due to the pain and lameness that result from the disease,” explained Charles Ley, BVSc, Dipl. ECVDI, PhD, from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, in Uppsala. "Young horses without obvious lameness were used in the study in order to include horses likely to have a very early stage of the disease and normal horses. We chose to use two noninvasive and clinically available imaging techniques—radiography and MRI—to see if it was possible to detect early OA changes in the joints."

Ley and colleagues collected 75 hock joint radiographs and MRIs from 38 Icelandic horses between the ages of 27 and 31 months. The team then used microscopy to classify joints as positive or negative for OA

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Written by:

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she’s worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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