Objective: To describe indicators of disability and handicap in the 2 major inflammatory rheumatic diseases rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and to estimate the burden of illness in terms of functional status, pain, and global well being, as well as with regard to unemployment and early retirement.
Methods: Data from the German rheumatological database on 52,444 patients with RA and 8,776 patients with AS seen at 21 collaborative arthritis centers in Germany between 1993 and 1997 were analyzed. To estimate the burden of the 2 diseases at different biographical phases, age and sex matched groups of patients were compared for functional disability, pain, global assessment of health status, education level, and employment status.
Results: For comparable ages, disability in female patients with AS or RA was rated similarly by the physicians (e.g., 61-70 years: 42% severe disability in RA and 44% in AS), whereas men with AS were rated more disabled than men with RA (61-70 years: 35% in RA and 48% in AS). Patients' self-ratings of disability were generally worse for women than for men (age 61-70: women 37% severe disability in RA and 35% in AS, men: 24% in RA and 19% in AS). Pain intensity was rated similarly by women and men with RA and AS at ages < 51 years (33% severe pain at ages 41-50 in men and 34% in women in both diseases). It increased with age in women (> 70 years: 41% severe pain in RA and 44% in AS) and remained stable in men (27% RA and 29% AS > 70 years). At 71.3% the employment rate in AS was clearly higher than in RA (49.5%). There was significant influence of the education level (men 51-60 years with AS: low education 56% employment rate, high education 79%) and the labor market (men 51-55 years with AS: 80% employment rate under good, 59% under bad overall labor market conditions).
Conclusion: Age and sex matched groups of patients with RA and AS in tertiary rheumatological care show similar amounts of disability, pain, and reduction in well being. Therefore, the offer of comprehensive care and pain management to both groups should be comparable.