Objectives: To assess the impact of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) on function and how this affects major aspects of patients' lives.
Methods: The inception cohort of RA patients was recruited from rheumatology out-patient departments in nine National Health Service (NHS) hospital trusts in England. All consecutive patients with RA of less than 2 yr duration, prior to any second-line (disease-modifying) drug treatment were recruited and followed-up for 5 yr. Standard clinical, laboratory and radiological assessments, and all hospital-based interventions were recorded prospectively at presentation and yearly. The outcome measures were clinical remission and extra-articular features, functional ability [functional grades I-IV and Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ)], use of aids, appliances and home adaptations, orthopaedic interventions, and loss of paid work.
Results: A total of 732 patients completed 5 yr of follow-up, of whom 84% received second-line drugs. Sixty-nine (9.4%) had marked functional loss at presentation, compared with normal function in 243 (33%), and by 5 yr these numbers had increased in each group, respectively, to 113 (16%) and 296 (40%). Home adaptations and/or wheelchair use by 5 yr were seen in 74 (10%). Work disability was seen in 27% of those in paid employment at onset. One hundred and seventeen (17%) patients underwent orthopaedic surgery for RA, 55 (8%) for major joint replacements. Marked functional loss at 5 yr was more likely in women [odds ratio (OR) 1.63, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.04-2.5], patients older than 60 yr (OR 1.94, 95% CI 1.3-2.9), and with HAQ > 1.0 at presentation (OR 4.4, 95% CI 2.8-7.0).
Conclusions: Clinical profiles of RA patients treated with conventional drug therapy over 5 yr showed that a small proportion of patients (around 16%) do badly functionally and in terms of life events, whereas around 40% do relatively well. The details and exact figures of cumulative disability are likely to be useful to clinicians, health professionals and patients. The rate of progression and outcome in these patients can be compared against future therapies with any disease-modifying claims.