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Patients with rheumatoid arthritis are now living longer

Image of an angel statute to represent lower mortality rate in rheumatoid arthritis patientsA study published by researchers at the University of British Columbia suggests that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients are no longer facing a higher risk of death than the general population. The study analyzed mortality data and looked at death rates among RA patients versus deaths among a control group of the general population.

The study included an estimated 25,000 people. Patients were divided into two groups – the first one was those with RA cases diagnosed between the years 1996 and 2000 and the second group was those with RA cases diagnosed from 2001 to 2006. Researchers looked at and tracked doctor visit records and other patient information through the year 2010.

For people in the first group, the death rate per 1,000 patients was about 40% higher for patients with RA versus the control group. In the second group, researchers were unable to determine a statistically significant difference in death rates between RA and non-RA patients.

An analysis of deaths from 1996 to 2000 showed a spike in death rates among RA patients versus the general population; however, an analysis from 2001 to 2006 revealed that the gap between people living with RA and those without have disappeared. Lead researcher Diane Lacaille, MD, of the University of British Columbia, said: “In our population-based incident RA cohort, mortality compared with the general population improved over time. Increased mortality in the first 5 years was observed in people with RA onset before, but not after, 2000.”

The study did not look at the possible causes for the apparent reduction in mortality. The authors noted possible reasons for the shift in mortality rate:

  • New advances in rheumatoid arthritis research
  • New treatments and biologics
  • Earlier detection of rheumatoid arthritis

The study also looked at the correlation between rheumatoid arthritis and the risk of death related to cardiovascular disease or cancer. They found that:

  • The overall cardiovascular disease-related deaths for patients with RA was 8.49 per 1,000 patients
  • Patients without RA had a cardiovascular disease-related death rate of 7.04 per 1,000 patients
  • RA increased the chance of cardiovascular disease-related deaths by 45% in RA patients diagnosed between 1996 and 2000
  • RA seemed to no effect on cardiovascular disease-related deaths for patients diagnosed after the year 2000
  • Cancer-related deaths for RA patients was 22% higher in patients diagnosed with RA between 1996 and 2000
  • RA patients appeared to be at no higher risk of cancer-related death if they were diagnosed after year 2000

The researchers agree that more research is needed; however, their research is a positive sign that when it comes to treating RA, rheumatologists are on the right track. To learn more about the study, click here.