Disease activity and disability in women and men with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA): an 8-year followup of a Swedish early RA project

Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2012 Aug;64(8):1101-7. doi: 10.1002/acr.21662.


Objective: To compare women and men regarding the course of disease activity and disability over 8 years from diagnosis of recent-onset rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: A total of 149 patients were followed in the Swedish TIRA study (Early Intervention in RA) for 8 years from RA diagnosis (1996-1998) regarding 28-joint count Disease Activity Score (DAS28), pain (visual analog scale), grip force, Grip Ability Test (GAT), Signals of Functional Impairment (SOFI; hand, upper/lower extremity), walking speed, activity limitation (Health Assessment Questionnaire [HAQ]), and prescribed disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

Results: Disease activity pattern over time was similar in women and men, showing improvement during the first year and a stable situation during 6 years thereafter. However, at the 7- and 8-year followup times, deterioration was seen with a less favorable course in women. HAQ score did not differ between sexes at diagnosis, but at all followup times women had significantly higher scores than men. Women also had lower grip force and lower walking speed, but higher upper extremity mobility. DMARD prescription was similar for both sexes. Over 8 years, disease duration, sex, biologic agents, grip force, SOFI hand, and pain intensity together explained 43% of the variation in DAS28, whereas grip force, SOFI lower extremity, GAT, and pain intensity could together explain 55% of variations in HAQ score.

Conclusion: Disease activity was fairly well managed, but disability gradually worsened. Despite similar medication, women had more disability than men. The discrepancy between disease activity and disability indicates unmet needs for multiprofessional interventions to prevent progressing disability, and patients at risk for disability need to be identified early in the process.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sweden / epidemiology