Objective: To study the demographic characteristics of patients with carpal tunnel syndrome and changes in incidence over time.
Methods: Prospective collection of neurophysiological and clinical data on all patients presenting to the subregional department of clinical neurophysiology in Canterbury, UK, from 1992 to 2001 and to the electromyography clinic in St Luke's Hospital, Huddersfield, UK, from 1991 to 1993.
Results: 6245 new cases of neurophysiologically confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome were identified in Canterbury and 590 in Huddersfield. The average annual incidences (per 100 000) were 139.4 for women and 67.2 for men in East Kent, and 83.2 for women and 48.0 for men in Huddersfield. Corrected to the WHO European standard population these rates were 120.5 for women and 60.0 for men in East Kent, and 61.5 for women and 35.0 for men in Huddersfield. Between 1992 and 2001 there was an increase in the number of confirmed cases in East Kent but a decrease in their average severity. The age distributions were bimodal with a peak in the 50–54 age group and a second peak between 75 and 84 years. Over half the cases were bilateral. The disorder was consistently worse in the elderly, and more severe in men than in women in all age groups.
Conclusions: The age distributions of unselected cases of carpal tunnel syndrome in both clinics differ markedly from that usually portrayed in surgical series. There was a significant increase in cases diagnosed between 1992 and 2001 in Canterbury, probably the result of increased ascertainment of milder cases. Median nerve impairment is more severe in the elderly and in men at all ages.