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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 00:22 GMT 01:22 UK
Arthritis 'is major killer of women'
One in 100 people develop the condition
Women with rheumatoid arthritis are as likely to die early as people diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, a study suggests.

Researchers in the United States have found that women with the condition are 60% more likely to die early than healthy women.

They said the figure showed rheumatoid arthritis was a big public health problem and urged governments to tackle the problem.


This will represent a growing public health problem with risks similar to or even greater than heart disease and cancer

Dr Madeleine Devey, Arthritis Research Campaign
Rheumatoid arthritis involves inflammation in the lining of the joints or other internal organs. It affects about one in 100 people.

Professor Ted Mikuls and colleagues at the University of Alabama based their findings on a study of more than 31,000 women.

Extensive research

The women were aged between 55 and 69 and none had rheumatoid arthritis at the beginning of the study in 1986.

However, by 1997, 158 had been diagnosed with the condition. By 2000, 30 patients had died.

The average age at which the disease was diagnosed was 68.

Those with the condition were 60% more likely to die early. However, those risks increased significantly to 90% if they also tested positively for rheumatoid factor.

This is an antibody commonly found in the serum of patients with the disease.

Almost two out of three of those women enrolled in the study who had been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis tested positive for this antibody.

Writing in the journal the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, the researchers said rheumatoid arthritis was a "growing public health problem, especially among elderly women".

They added: "The mortality risk associated with positive rheumatoid arthritis equalled or exceeded hazard rates associated with self reported hypertension, heart disease and cancer."

Important study

Dr Madeleine Devey of the Arthritis Research Campaign said the findings were important.

"We already know that severe rheumatoid arthritis, which affects approximately 10% of the total rheumatoid arthritis population, is particularly debilitating and disabling and is associated with increased mortality.

"This does, however, seem to be a very large and important study over a long timescale which shows very clearly the significantly increased mortality in older female patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

"As they point out, with an aging population this will represent a growing public health problem with risks similar to or even greater than heart disease and cancer.

"The reasons for the increased mortality are not fully understood but may be related to the aggressive therapies often needed to treat severe rheumatoid arthritis, which is why the new biological therapies such as TNF-alpha blockers may play a very important role in controlling rheumatoid arthritis in the future with a greater safety profile."

Robina Lloyd, from Arthritis Care, said the charity was campaigning for better access to care for people with rheumatoid arthritis.

She told BBC News Online: "There is no doubt that rheumatoid arthritis is a serious, life effecting disease, but the majority of people with the condition have the potential to live full lives."

See also:

21 Aug 02 | Health
22 Mar 02 | Health
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