Objective To provide Swedish nationwide data on the prevalence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), including variations by age, sex, geography, demography and education level, and assess antirheumatic treatment penetration.
Methods Patients ≥16 years assigned an RA diagnosis were identified from inpatient (n=96 560; 1964–2007) and specialist outpatient care (n=56 336; 2001–2007) in the Swedish National Patient Register, and the Swedish Rheumatology Quality Register (n=21 242; 1995–2007). Data on prescriptions, demography, vital status and educational level were retrieved from national registers.
Results A total of 58 102 individuals (mean age 66 years; 73% women) assigned an RA diagnosis were alive in Sweden in 2008, corresponding to a cumulative prevalence of 0.77% (women 1.11%, men 0.43%). The 2001–2007 period prevalence was 0.70%. Restriction to patients with ≥2 visits or diagnosis from a rheumatologist/internist reduced the overall cumulative prevalence to 0.68%. Whereas urban/rural differences (crude 0.65–1.00%) were explained by age differences, the age/sex-adjusted prevalence remained higher in patients with ≤9 years education (0.86%) than for those with 10–12 years (0.82%) and >12 years (0.65%). Treatment exposures (76% any disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or steroids, 64% any DMARD, 15% biological agents) varied with age; use of biological agents decreased from 22% in 16–59 years olds to 3% in ≥80 years olds. Any DMARD use correspondingly decreased from 71% to 43%. Applying age cut-off points from previous northern European and North American prevalence studies reduced or eliminated between-study differences.
Conclusion This nationwide approach yielded a prevalence of RA similar to previous regional assessments. While displaying only modest geographical variation and no urban/rural gradient, prevalence was associated with educational level. Although most patients received antirheumatic drugs, age was a strong treatment determinant.
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