OBJECTIVE--To assess the impact of early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) on work status. METHODS--The employment status of 119 patients who had jobs before the onset of RA was examined. Patients with work disability were compared with those without, for several disease characteristics, therapeutic regimen, and educational level and age. RESULTS--Sixty two percent of the patients, particularly manual workers, reported some kind of work disability (7% worked less, 13% were on sick leave, and 42% had quit their jobs). Forty five patients (38%) stated that they were working without any restrictions; however, only 12 of this latter group (10% of the total group) had not encountered any changes at all within their jobs. The patients who reported work disability had a lower level of education and scored higher for several disease characteristics (erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), joint tenderness, Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ), and Groningen Activity Restriction Scale) and were provided with more medication compared with patients without work disability, though only the educational level, disease duration, HAQ and ESR contributed significantly to work disability in logistic regression analysis. CONCLUSION--Even at an early stage, RA has a considerable impact on work status. This study indicates that work disability is dependent on disease characteristics and on the educational level of the patient.
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