Objective: To determine if marital status is associated with differences in rates of progression of functional disability in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods: A community cohort of 282 persons with RA was followed prospectively for up to 9.5 years. The progression of functional disability over time was determined using the Health Assessment Questionnaire Disability Index, which was completed by study participants every 6 months.
Results: At study entry, the Disability Index was 1.1 +/- 0.8 (mean +/- 1 SD) (possible range 0-3) among the 188 married participants and 1.3 +/- 0.9 among the 94 unmarried participants. Over time, the rate of progression of functional disability was generally higher among unmarried participants. However, the extent of this difference varied somewhat over the disease course, with rates of progression higher among unmarried than among married participants during years 5-7 and years 17-29 of RA. Overall estimated rates of progression, adjusted for the effects of other sociodemographic factors, were 0.03 Disability Index units per year in unmarried participants and 0.01 Disability Index units per year in married participants (P < 0.0001).
Conclusion: Marriage, possibly reflecting the influence of social support, is associated with a lower rate of progression of functional disability in persons with RA.