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Rheumatoid arthritis can cause disability years before diagnosis

Friday 24th May 2019
A study has found that rheumatoid arthritis patients are often affected by functional disabilities up to two years before a diagnosis.
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Rheumatoid arthritis can have a significant impact on patients’ quality of life, causing physical disabilities that require physiotherapy or ongoing care. However, a new study has found that sufferers may be feeling the effects of the disease for years before being diagnosed with it.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that rheumatoid arthritis sufferers deal with functional disabilities for up to two years before receiving their diagnosis. These include trouble eating, walking and getting dressed, making day-to-day life much more difficult.

Dr Elena Myasoedova, primary author of the study, said: “This is a new finding and a finding that is quite intriguing. It may reflect an accumulation of symptoms between the time of first onset and the time required for providers to actually diagnose patients.”

The study looked at questionnaires from 586 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 531 people without the disease. Researchers found that functional disabilities were more than twice as likely in those suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, and were at least 15 per cent more common across most age groups.

Furthermore, these disabilities often continued for patients even after they had been diagnosed and treated for rheumatoid arthritis. Dr Myasoedova suggested this could be because of consistent mental and physical pain and high expectations for treatment that don’t deliver, but it could also be due to use of glucocorticoids and antidepressants.

One reason for the prevalence of disability before diagnosis could be a lack of knowledge of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. The expected symptom for any kind of arthritis is joint pain or swelling, but when it comes to rheumatoid arthritis, 40 per cent of patients don’t experience this.

Fatigue, fever and loss of appetite are all common symptoms that might not be recognised as signs of rheumatoid arthritis. By understanding this, patients might be able to point their doctors in the right direction. Dr Myasoedova said: “Alerting your health care provider to difficulties in daily living can assure that patients receive the help they need.”

Written by Matthew Horton

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