Know the Numbers: Rheumatoid Arthritis Statistics
Arthritis: How Is RA Different?
There are more than 100 different types of arthritis, a condition that causes inflammation in and around the joints. Examples include:
- osteoarthritis (OA): caused by wear on the joints as you age
- infectious arthritis: caused by an infection in the joint
- gout: a type of arthritis caused by uric acid crystals that build up in the joint
- rheumatoid arthritis (RA): an autoimmune arthritis that affects soft tissues, organs, and joints
How Many Americans Have RA?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1.5 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis. RA is an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system attacks the synovial tissue between the joints, mistaking it for foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses.
RA is systemic, meaning that it affects the whole body. Soft tissues like ligaments and cartilage, organs such as the heart and eyes, and even the veins may be affected.
Who Gets RA?
Women get RA two-and-a-half times more often than men do. Scientists think that hormones may play a role, along with heredity, environmental, and lifestyle.
RA sometimes goes into remission during pregnancy, but returns after the baby is born. According to the CDC, there is also some evidence that women who take or have taken oral contraceptives, which influence hormone levels in the body, may have a lowered probability of contracting RA.
Finally, it’s possible that male hormones may be a reason that fewer men than women contract RA. How hormones affect the disease is still under review.
Does RA Only Affect the Elderly?
The common association of RA with the elderly is incorrect. Men and women of any age can get RA. The Arthritis Foundation states that the onset of the disease generally occurs between the ages of 30 and 60 in women. Men generally get the disease later in life. The incidence of RA in both genders rises slightly among people over age 60.
Can Children Get RA?
According to the Arthritis Foundation, more than 300,000 American children—even infants—have some form of what was formerly called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Today, it’s called juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), an umbrella term that covers several subsets of autoimmune arthritis. They’re generally treated with the same drugs used for RA in adults.
Children as young as infants may contract some form of JIA, including:
- systemic arthritis
- enthesitis-related arthritis
- juvenile psoriatic arthritis (JPA)
Is RA Life Threatening?
The complications of RA and some medications that treat it, called co-morbidities, may be life threatening. They include:
- increased likelihood of dying from heart disease or stroke
- suppressed immune system, which may not protect against infection
- anxiety and depression, which lead to decreased mental and physical activity
- increased chance of cancer
Can RA Increase the Chance of Hospitalization?
Treating the symptoms or co-morbidities of RA may require a stay in the hospital for joint replacements surgery or modifications. A hospital stay may also be necessary when treating intractable pain, or for tests related to possible side effects of medication.
According to the CDC, women and people over the age of 45 are most often hospitalized. In 2009, 15,600 people were hospitalized with a diagnosis of RA. Those hospitalizations cost a total of $545 million, or an average cost of $35,000 per patient.
Who’s at Risk for RA?
Scientists don’t know what causes RA, but some factors seem to be associated with the disease, including:
- gender: RA is contracted two to three times more often by women than by men.
- genetics: Scientific evidence shows that specific HLA class II genotypes are associated with an increased risk of RA. A gene called PTPN22 has been linked to several autoimmune conditions, including RA.
- environment: There is a possibility that bacteria or a virus may trigger RA.
- lifestyle: People who smoke cigarettes may be slightly more likely to contract RA.
How Does RA Affect Quality of Life?
RA can have a huge negative impact on quality of life. RA symptoms include inflammation, swelling, and pain in the joints, which can cause permanent disability.
According to the CDC, one study showed that 40 percent of people with RA were more likely to report fair or poor general health compared to people who don’t have arthritis. Thirty percent reported needing help with personal care.
Other reports cited by the CDC show that people who have RA lose function “in every domain of human activity including work, leisure, and social relations.”
- Rheumatoid arthritis fact sheet. (2012, Mar. 20) Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved on December 27, 2013 from http://www.arthritis.org/press-center/arthritis-statistics/ and http://www.arthritis.org/files/images/AF_Connect/Departments/Public_Relations/Rheumatoid-Arthritis-Final-3-7-12.pdf
- Arthritis. (2012, Mar. 28). Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved on Dec. 27, 2012 from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/disorders/arthritis/hic_arthritis.aspx
- Understanding JIA. (n.d.) Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved on Jan. 2, 2014 from http://www.kidsgetarthritistoo.org/about-ja/the-basics/understanding-jia.php
- Arthritis. (2013, Dec. 10) U.S. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on Dec. 28, 2013 from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/arthritis.html
- Rheumatoid arthritis. (2012, Nov. 19) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved on January 1, 2014 from http://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/rheumatoid.htm