This study reviewed the effect of biological agents on participation in paid work among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A systematic literature search was performed to identify published articles reporting the effect of biological agents on employment status, sick leave and/or presenteeism. The quality of included articles was assessed according to the guidelines as proposed by the Dutch Cochrane Centre. Narrative summaries were used to present the data separately for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) as well as controlled and uncontrolled cohort studies. 19 studies (six uncontrolled cohorts, seven controlled cohorts and six RCTs) were included, in which 11 259 patients were treated with biological agents. Employment status improved in four out of 13 studies, absence from work in all 10 studies and presenteeism in seven out of nine studies that reported this outcome. For absenteeism and presenteeism the statistical significance of change or difference was not always provided and results within studies were sometimes conflicting when using different time frames or alternative outcomes. The large heterogeneity in terms of population, design, analyses and most important in outcome measures limits interpretation of the data. RCTs as well as cohort studies showed positive results of biological agents on both absenteeism and presenteeism compared with other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARD), continuing the failing DMARD, the general population or the situation before the start of biological agents. The effect on employment status was more conflicting, but 50% of studies that addressed patients with early methotrexate-naive RA showed a positive result on employment status.
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