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Rheumatoid arthritis patients fare better than 20 years ago, study reports

Some encouraging news about rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a systemic autoimmune disease that causes painful, swollen joints: A new study out of The Netherlands has shown that people recently diagnosed with the disorder have an easier time with daily functioning than patients who were diagnosed 20 years ago, as measured by levels of depressed mood, anxiety and physical disability associated with the condition.

Earlier diagnosis, prescription of physical exercise, and more aggressive drug interventions are responsible for patient improvements, according to the study, which was published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. From a press release:

For the present study, researchers recruited 1151 with newly diagnosed RA between 1990 and 2011. Participants were 17 to 86 years of age with 68% being female. Each participant was assessed at the time of diagnosis and monitored for the following three to five years.

Findings indicate that after the first four years of treatment 20 years ago, 23% of RA patients reported anxiety, 25% depressed mood, and 53% had physical disability compared to 12%, 14% and 31%, respectively, today. The decrease in physical disability remained significant even after adjusting for reduced disease activity. Results suggest that the downward trend in physical disability, anxiety, and depressed mood may be due in part to reduced disease activity.


"Our study determined that currently, 1 out of 4 newly diagnosed RA patients are disabled after the first four years of treatment; while 20 years ago, that figure was higher at 2 out of 4 patients," concludes [Cécile L. Overman, a Ph.D. Candidate with the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Utrecht University]. "Today, RA patients have a better opportunity of living a valued life than patients diagnosed with this autoimmune disease two decades ago."

Previously: Important metabolic defect identified in immune cells of rheumatoid arthritis patientsMany lupus patients on Medicaid fail to take medication as prescribed, study shows and Collaboration between Stanford and UCSF aims to advance arthritis research

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