The incidence of rheumatoid arthritis has remained relatively unchanged over the last 10 years but the way people manage it has changed significantly, according to a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues resulting in painful swelling and stiffness of the joints.
The report, A snapshot of rheumatoid arthritis, showed that biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (bDMARDs) have become increasingly popular to treat the condition since becoming available in Australia in 2003.
AIHW spokesperson Louise York said: “The number of times pharmacotherapy, such as corticosteroids and bDMARDs, was administered during admitted hospital care more than doubled from 2004-05 to 2010-11, up from 2,608 to 6,932 occasions.”
The hospitalisation rate for the condition also rose from 30 hospitalisations per 100,000 people to 53 per 100,000 people between 2001-02 and 2010-11, the report found.
However, how much of this increase is attributable to pharmaceutical interventions provided in hospitals is not known.
“The indirect cost of managing rheumatoid arthritis is currently unknown but the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on those with the condition is significant,” Ms York said.
The estimated direct health expenditure on rheumatoid arthritis in 2008-09 alone was $318.7 million, the report shows. Prescription medications accounted for 86 per cent, or $273.6 million, of that.
“Rheumatoid arthritis may also lead to reduced workforce participation, increased costs of managing the condition, and an increased impact on carers,” Ms York said.
It is estimated that about 2 per cent of Australians are affected by rheumatoid arthritis, she said.
“This condition can develop at any age, but is more common in those aged 55 and older and is more common in women than in men.”
People with rheumatoid arthritis are 2.9 times as likely to report severe or very severe pain as those without the condition, 1.7 times more likely to report high or very high levels of psychological distress, and 3.3 times as likely to report poor health status, the report found.
Access the report here: A snapshot of rheumatoid arthritis