Death Rates Due to Rheumatoid Arthritis Drop

By Joseph Gustaitis

Arthritis usually isn’t thought of as a deadly disease, but the facts say otherwise. Historically, people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have had higher mortality rates compared to the general population. Why this is remains something of a mystery, although the culprit appears to be connected to inflammation.

A new report, however, has brought some good news on that front. At the most recent meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, it was announced that the mortality rate of patients with RA has improved compared to that of the general population. The researchers, who were from the University of British Columbia, examined health information collected from physician visits and from death certificates of nearly 25,000 patients who had recently been diagnosed with RA. They also collected the same information from a group of controls of similar gender and age who did not have RA. The information was collected between 1996 and 2006, and the RA patients were divided into two groups — one that met the criteria for RA before 2001 and one that didn’t meet the criteria until 2001 or after.

After analyzing the data, researchers determined that new cases of RA from 2001 to 2006 had no higher mortality rate than the general population. In the earlier (1996-2000) group, however, the mortality rate for RA patients was higher. The indication, therefore, is that the mortality rate for RA has dropped to the point at which a person with RA no longer is more likely than anyone else to die. It’s a remarkable achievement.

Diane Lacaille, M.D., head of the research team, said the main reason for the progress has been “a paradigm shift in our approach to treating RA.” The key, she said, is “early and aggressive treatment” with antirheumatic drugs that target inflammation. This new finding should put physicians on notice that vigorous treatment of RA from day one pays off, not only in terms of less pain, but also in terms of longer life.

A version of this article was published in the April/May issue of Pain-Free Living. Subscribe.

Last Reviewed 4/28/2016

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Joseph Gustaitis is a freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area.

Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.

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