An illustration of a man working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. The person is low on energy and having trouble concentrating.
Credit: Nuthawut Somsuk/iStock

Key Takeaways

  • Patients initially diagnosed with joint pain had about a 30 percent loss in work productivity one year prior to RA diagnosis.
  • Researchers found that productivity worsened further — roughly a 39 percent loss — by the time the RA diagnosis occurred.
  • Treating RA found to improve ability to accurately perform work.  
  • Diagnosing RA early is key to avoiding long-term complications and declines in work productivity. 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) often causes pain, stiffness, and joint deterioration, so it’s not difficult to understand why this inflammatory condition might make it difficult to thrive at work. But a new study finds that the disease might interfere with work productivity far earlier than you might expect; in fact, a significant number of RA patients appear to have trouble working during the year prior to their diagnosis.

In the study, published in the journal Rheumatology, researchers used data from a Dutch cohort to learn about work ability in three groups of people:  

  • Those who were initially diagnosed as having “arthralgia” (joint pain) but were later diagnosed with RA  
  • Arthralgia patients whose joint pain symptoms went away 
  • New RA patients 

According to their findings, people who were initially told they had arthralgia but later diagnosed with RA had about a 30 percent loss in work productivity in the year leading up to their RA diagnosis. Their productivity worsened further, amounting to about a 39 percent loss, at the time of diagnosis.  

On a more positive note, the study also found the ability to fully and accurately perform workplace duties improved once those diagnosed with RA started treatment.  

The authors noted that while other studies had examined absenteeism (i.e. missing work) among RA patients, theirs is the first to focus on presenteeism (the ability or inability to perform well while showing up at work).  

They measured presenteeism using standardized surveys that asked questions about whether subjects were limited in the amount or kind of work they could do, accomplished less than usual, or were unable to do their work as carefully as usual. 

The Bottom Line 

Treating RA early is key to avoiding long-term complications, and the researchers said that a decline in work productivity among people with arthralgia might serve to get some RA patients diagnosed and treated earlier.  

They noted that “interventions in the phrase preceding clinical arthritis… could improve work participation and prevent permanent work loss, and hence diminish the burden of RA.”  

Here’s How You Can Be Part of Arthritis Research

If you’re diagnosed with arthritis or another musculoskeletal condition, participate in future studies like this by joining CreakyJoints’ patient research registry, ArthritisPower. ArthritisPower is a patient-led, patient-centered research registry for joint, bone, and inflammatory skin conditions. Learn more and sign up here.

Rheumatoid arthritis linked to 30% loss in work productivity 1 year before diagnosis. Healio Rheumatology. December 3, 2021. 

Rogier C, et al. Work participation is reduced during the development of RA, months before clinical arthritis manifests. Rheumatology. October 2021. doi: 

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