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Extended report
Decline in work disability caused by early rheumatoid arthritis: results from a nationwide Finnish register, 2000–8


Objectives To study whether the work disability (WD) rates in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have changed in Finland, where the treatment of RA has long been active but has intensified further since 2000.

Methods All incident non-retired patients with RA of working age (18–64 years) in a nationwide register maintained by the Finnish Social Insurance Institution from 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2007 were identified. Patient cohorts were analysed in 2-year time periods (2000–1, 2002–3, 2004–5, 2006–7) and initial disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) were elucidated from the drug purchase register. The incidence of continuous WD in the RA cohorts as well as in the entire Finnish population up to 31 December 2008 was analysed.

Results A total of 7831 patients were identified (71% women, 61% rheumatoid factor-positive). Throughout the follow-up period the use of methotrexate and combination DMARDs as the initial treatment of early RA increased. During the first 2 years the incidence of RA-related continuous WD was 8.9%, 9.4%, 7.2% and 4.8% in the year cohorts, respectively (p<0.001 for linearity). Compared with the entire Finnish population, the age- and sex-stratified standardised incidence ratio of a WD pension due to any cause was 3.69, 3.34, 2.77 and 2.80 in the year cohorts, respectively (p<0.001 for linearity).

Conclusions Since 2000 the frequency of continuous WD in early RA has declined in Finland. The present data allow no explanatory analysis but, at the same time, increasingly active treatment strategies have been introduced.

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