Background: Work disability remains a significant problem in ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), despite biological therapy. This study aimed to test the hypothesis that the prevalent symptom of fatigue longitudinally predicts work disability among RA and AS patients commencing etanercept.
Methods: Two observational studies, comprising RA and AS etanercept commencers, respectively, were analysed. Both provided data on work disability over 1 year and a comprehensive set of putative predictors, including fatigue. A series of repeated measures models were conducted, including baseline variables, visit (6/12 months), and the interaction between visit and each of the explanatory variables.
Results: A total of 1003 AS and 1747 RA patients were assessed. For AS, fatigue was significantly associated with presenteeism (linear mixed model coefficient 3.75, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.14 to 5.36) and activity impairment (2.62, 1.26 to 3.98), but not with work productivity loss (1.81, -0.40 to 4.02) or absenteeism (generalised linear mixed model odds ratio (OR) 1.18, 95% CI 0.92 to 1.51). In RA, fatigue was associated with presenteeism (coefficient 3.44, 95% CI 2.17 to 4.70), activity impairment (1.52, 0.79 to 2.26), work productivity loss (4.16, 2.47 to 5.85), and absenteeism (OR 1.23, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.49). The lack of significant interactions between fatigue and visit supported a consistent effect of baseline fatigue over time.
Conclusions: Among patients beginning etanercept therapy, fatigue has a significant and independent effect on absenteeism, presenteeism, productivity loss, and activity impairment for RA patients and a significant but dimension-selective effect on work disability among AS patients.
Keywords: Fatigue; Rheumatoid arthritis; Spondyloarthritis; Work disability.