Fatigue Often Stops RA Patients from Working

By Pat Anson, Editor

Fatigue and pain are the top reasons rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients in the U.S. stop working, according to a new survey that found only about a third of RA patients are still employed full-time.

The “RA in America” survey of over 3,500 patients was conducted online by Health Union, a healthcare research and marketing company. It found that RA had a severe impact on patients’ quality of life, employment, and ability to afford treatment.

RA is a chronic and disabling autoimmune disease that causes pain and stiffness in joints. It affects about 1.3 million Americans and about one percent of the global population.

Ninety-four percent of respondents said they cannot do as much as they were able before acquiring the disease. Only 37% said they were still working full time.

Although fatigue is often overlooked as a symptom of RA, it had the greatest impact on the respondents’ ability to work – with 92% reporting they were tired while on the job. Pain, physical limitations, and a lack of understanding by colleagues also presented challenges.

“My biggest complaint is fatigue,” wrote one poster on a Health Union Facebook page.  “I am an invalid due to RA. I am in bed 24/7, I can't even sit up. I sleep a lot, not much else to do, but no matter how much I sleep, when I wake I'm exhausted. It's so crazy. I can sleep for 20 hours, and I'm exhausted the minute I open my eyes.”

“I was forced from my job because of exhaustion,” wrote another woman. “The meds contributed to the sleepiness, so I am careful about which I take. (I have) developed Lupus, OA and several related syndrome in addition to the RA.”

Many people who were surveyed said they were diagnosed with other conditions, including depression and anxiety (39%), high blood pressure (33%), fibromyalgia (32%) and migraine (25%).

Survey respondents also reported they needed help with daily activities, such as cleaning (75%) and other household chores (52%). Over a third (41%) needed assistance from a caregiver, which was typically a spouse, to help manage their RA.

"Many people do not know rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive, autoimmune disease and not the result of aging and wear on the body, like osteoarthritis the most common form of arthritis," said Andrew Lumpe, PhD, an RA patient. "Treatment can help slow the damage, but rheumatoid arthritis frequently alters the lives of both patients and their families."

The survey found some good news to report. Over a third (34%) of respondents said their RA had gone into remission at some point, usually for less than a year. Nearly three-fourths (74%) said the remission occurred after they began taking medication.

About half the survey respondents reported satisfaction with their treatments and only 21% were dissatisfied. Those on biologics, a newer and more expensive medication that can cost over $20,000 a year, had a slightly higher satisfaction rate. Over a third of respondents (38%) have avoided medications because of cost.

"The affordability of effective rheumatoid arthritis treatments is a serious concern," said Mariah Leach, an RA patient. "When you consider the burden this disease places on patients in terms of quality of life and employment, it is clear that supporting these individuals with treatment options can yield many benefits."