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Understanding The Global Extent Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

By Julie Davis

Almost three quarters—72 percent—of women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) suffer pain daily, despite the fact that 75 percent receive pain relief medication, according to a new study presented today at EULAR 2010, the Annual Congress of the European League Against Rheumatism in Rome, Italy. Worse still, the physical pain of RA appears to affect women to such an extent that it impacts negatively on emotional and social aspects of their lives.

The report gave results from data collected across seven countries—UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, USA and Canada—and highlighted the health-related emotional, social and physical impact of RA on women’s lives. Women with RA reported suffering feelings of detachment and isolation and said that their condition had negatively affected intimate relationships; 40 percent of single women said it was more challenging to find a partner and 22 percent of divorced or separated respondents said that RA played a role in their decision to separate from their partner. Sixty eight percent of the women reported concealing the physical pain of RA from those closest to them, and 67 percent said they constantly look for new ideas to address the pain they suffer.
"These data confirm that pain is a paramount issue for women with RA, fundamentally striking at the heart of their physical, social and emotional wellbeing. The research highlights the complexity of the management of RA, and the pain associated with RA, over and above basic symptom control," said Professor Paul Emery, President of EULAR and arc Professor of Rheumatology, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Leeds in the UK. "The adoption of treatment pathways and strategies to reduce pain, reinstate productivity at work and manage the social impact of RA is of huge importance in the clinical management of this patient population."

The survey further explored the negative impact of the disease and pain on respondents’ productivity at work with 71 percent of those who were employed at the time of the survey reporting they were less productive at work because of their RA. Many respondents reported that RA had a long term effect on their work life, with 23 percent of respondents stopping work altogether and 17 percent of respondents reporting a switch to part-time employment as a result of their RA.

"PARE [People with Arthritis and Rheumatism in Europe] believes firmly that putting the patient at the center of all discussions on the management of rheumatic conditions is imperative. The results of this study highlight that a continuing dialogue between healthcare practitioners and patients is essential for long term conditions such as RA," said Neil Betteridge, Vice President, PARE and Chief Executive Officer of Arthritis Care in the UK. "PARE has developed a set of eight practical recommendations organizing patient involvement in clinical research which we hope will enable the successful inclusion of a patient perspective in future research projects, in particular in the context of EULAR studies. These recommendations follow a progressive model from which we believe the whole world can learn." These recommendations are being presented at the EULAR conference later this week. The aims of EULAR are to stimulate, promote, and support the research, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation of rheumatic diseases. To this end, EULAR fosters excellence in education and research in the field of rheumatology. It promotes the translation of research advances into daily care and fights for the recognition of the needs of people with rheumatic diseases.

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, working with a rheumatologist—a specialist in the autoimmune disease—is crucial. Though newer drugs do carry side effects, many can prolong mobility and make a significant impact on your life and emotional wellbeing.