A new survey is putting into focus the broad range of problems and attitudes encountered by the two million Americans living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
More than 1,000 people with RA took part in the survey, making it one of the largest of its kind in the United States. Conducted by Health Union, LLC, patients answered over 100 questions on a variety of topics pertaining to the long-term disease.
Among the findings, almost one in four patients reported being on disability. A similar amount reported RA having an impact on their personal relationships, their relationships with their children or their careers.
“For the general public, the results shed light on what it’s like to live with RA, and the results will help RA patients themselves see how others live with and manage the disease,” said Tim Armand, President of Health Union.
Hand or wrist pain and swelling, general body stiffness, knee pain and fatigue were the most common initial symptoms of RA, occurring most frequently between the ages of 45 to 54.
Most RA patients said they’ve used prescription drugs (96%) or over-the counter medications (62%) to treat the disease. Nearly one-third (31%) said they’ve tried alternative therapy such as yoga or acupuncture.
A majority (59%) reported spending over $1,000 a year on out of pocket treatments, even though most have health insurance.
Once diagnosed, nine out of ten patients saw a rheumatologist as the primary care provider. Three out of four were either satisfied or very satisfied with the doctor they were seeing. However, only 46% said they were satisfied you with their current treatment plan.
But it was the impact that RA has on people’s lives that stood out.
More than 96% of people with severe RA (stage 3 or 4) said they were unable to do as much as they used to. Six out of ten said that people didn’t believe their symptoms were severe. And more than half were constantly worried about disappointing people. The impact on people with mild RA (stage 1 or 2) was also high, but generally 10% lower in each category.
The ability to work for people with both mild and severe RA was also compromised.
Three out of four people with severe RA said it affected their ability to work. That number dropped to 60% for those with mild RA.
Common complaints for people in both groups were that they were either too tired to work, or that pain and physical limitations impacted their performance. Guilt for taking too many sick days seemed to weigh heavy on more than one out of five patients.
RA is a chronic inflammatory disorder that affects the small joints of the hands and feet. Unlike the wear-and-tear damage of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis affects the lining of joints, causing a painful swelling that can eventually result in bone erosion and joint deformity.
It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s tissues. Although RA can occur at any age, it usually begins after age 40 and is much more common in women than in men. Treatment focuses on controlling symptoms and preventing joint damage.