Contemporary prevalence and incidence of work disability associated with rheumatoid arthritis in the US

Arthritis Rheum. 2008 Apr 15;59(4):474-80. doi: 10.1002/art.23538.


Objective: To provide a contemporary estimate of the prevalence and incidence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) work disability and examine its permanence over time.

Methods: Data were collected semiannually from 5,384 subjects with rheumatologist-diagnosed RA. We examined prevalence in subgroups formed by approximately 5-year disease duration intervals using data from subjects age < or =64 years who were employed at disease onset. Annual incidence was examined longitudinally among subjects who supplied data in 2003, 2004, or 2005, were employed at disease onset and in a year's first survey, and were age < or =63 years. For work disability permanence we used longitudinal data from all subjects who became work disabled and observed whether they later returned to work.

Results: Mean age of subjects was 52 years, 82% were female, 63% had more than a high school education, mean disease duration was 14 years, and mean Health Assessment Questionnaire score was 1.0. The prevalence of any premature work cessation was 23% in subjects with 1-3 years duration, 35% in those with 10 years, and 51% in those with > or =25 years RA duration. Arthritis-attributed work cessation was 14%, 29%, and 42%, respectively. Annual incidence of any premature work cessation was approximately 10% and arthritis-attributed work cessation incidence was approximately 6%. Thirty-nine percent of subjects who stopped working later returned to work.

Conclusion: Work disability prevalence in this sample was high (35% within 10 years disease duration), but may represent a decline from the 50% prevalence reported in 1987. Annual incidence of work disability was higher than prior studies, but the return to work rate was also higher.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications*
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Disabled Persons / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence