Background: The aim of the study was to determine the prevalence of work disability in a cohort of Australians with rheumatoid arthritis.
Methods: A cross-sectional study of a sample of 497 individuals aged 18-65 years with rheumatoid arthritis in Adelaide, South Australia, was carried out.
Results: Of those employed, 130 (51%) were in full-time employment (> or= 35 h per week) work and 124 (49%) were in part-time employment (average 20 h per week). Overall, the observed/expected numbers working were 254/316 (relative risk 0.8 (0.69-0.91)). Using a comparator adjusted by removing those on the disability support pension, the relative risk of the working was 0.74. The observed/expected numbers working part time in the study group were 124/89 (relative risk 1.4 (1.25-1.65)). Those who continued to work had lower Health Assessment Questionnaire scores, less morning stiffness, superior scores for patient assessed level of function, lower pain scores, lower joint counts, a lower C-reactive protein, better measures of 'patient global assessment' and higher levels of education compared with the group who had ceased work. Overall, of those working at the time of diagnosis, 20% had ceased work within 5 years and approximately 40% had ceased work by 20 years. Of those who ceased work, the mean duration from time of diagnosis to work cessation was 7 years with half the subjects who ceased work doing so within 4 years of diagnosis.
Conclusion: Work disability associated with rheumatoid arthritis in Australia is very significant and costly. Work disability occurs relatively early in the disease and is associated with several identifiable variables, many of which may be amenable to intervention strategies.