They also found that 12% of patients on waiting lists for knee replacements considered themselves to be in a similarly acute state of health.
“Patients with end-stage degenerative joint disease live with pain and disability”
The figures are worse than for many other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart failure or lung diseases, warned the team from the University of Edinburgh.
The study authors said their findings disproved the perception that hip and knee arthritis only caused mild discomfort and that surgery was considered optional.
They measured more than 4,000 Scottish patients’ health conditions using an internationally approved score called the EQ-5D – the first time that this has been done.
The EQ-5D rating measures the ability of a patient to perform routine activities and look after themselves, as well as their levels of mobility, discomfort and anxiety.
Researchers measured more than 2,000 people waiting for a total hip replacement and found that 19% were in extreme pain or discomfort – a state defined as “worse than death” by the EQ-5D.
Some 12% of the 2,000 plus patients waiting for knee replacements said they were in a similar condition.
The study authors said: “Patients with end-stage degenerative joint disease live with pain and disability that is more severe than many other chronic health conditions when measured.”
The scores improved dramatically following joint replacement, according to the study findings published in the Bone and Joint Journal.
“Patients with the most extreme EQ-5D scores should be a priority for health care delivery”
Hip and knee replacements were highly cost-effective treatments with long lasting and almost immediate benefit from the pain and disability from arthritis, according to the study’s authors.
However, they noted that, despite this efficacy, patients receiving these procedures were the first to have their treatment limited or cancelled.
Lead study author Dr Chloe Scott, consultant orthopaedic surgeon and honorary senior clinical lecturer at Edinburgh University, said: “Patients with the most extreme EQ-5D scores should be a priority for health care delivery.
“Indeed, given the overall high levels of pain and disability described by all patients awaiting joint replacement compared with most other illnesses, access to appropriate treatment should be free and available to all at the time of need not limited by cost or bed availability.”