BSR highlights the disabling effects of rheumatoid arthritis, which mean patients need six times more sickness absence than average

The life-changing and debilitating symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis mean patients need over six times more sickness leave than average. With three-quarters of rheumatoid arthritis cases diagnosed in people of working age and almost 700,000 cases in total, it is a major cause of sickness absence and unemployment estimated to cost the economy £1.8 billion every year.

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The Simple Tasks campaign from the British Society for Rheumatology aims to increase awareness of rheumatic conditions, highlighting the significant effects of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis on working people’s lives during rheumatoid arthritis awareness week (running 16-22 June). Rheumatic conditions are excruciatingly painful and debilitating and can lead to deformities so severe that simple tasks are impossible for those affected.

 

The average rheumatoid arthritis patient takes 40 days off due to illness every year. As a result of their symptoms one in seven give up work within a year of diagnosis. Paula Savage began developing rheumatoid arthritis when she was just 25 years old and left her job as a secretary because the pain and swelling in her wrists, fingers and shoulders made her job impossible.

 

Speaking about people’s perceptions of rheumatoid arthritis, Paula said: “People believe that only the elderly get arthritis and have no understanding of how different types of autoimmune diseases affect people. My friends couldn’t understand why it would stop me from being able to cook or wear high heels, it has taken time for them to realise that some people suffer with invisible disabilities.”

 

There are 20,000 new cases of rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed each year. It is a long-term chronic condition caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the joints, which results in damage and swelling of the joints.

 

Currently there is no known cure for the condition, however treatment within the first 12 weeks of the disease (the ‘window of opportunity’) can prevent damage to joints and other organs, improve long-term function, and increase the chances of achieving remission. For this reason it is key that rheumatoid arthritis is understood and those with potential symptoms know the importance of visiting their GP as soon as possible.

 

The Simple Tasks campaign aims to ensure more people are treated in the ‘window of opportunity’ by calling for appropriate, timely referrals and policies that enable access to rheumatologists and by increasing understanding of the importance of the rheumatology practice.

 

Professor Simon Bowman, President of the British Society for Rheumatology, said: “The Simple Tasks campaign is to emphasise that these diseases are significant, that they do lead to major effects on real people’s lives and they are common and important. I hope that by highlighting rheumatoid arthritis this week people will begin to understand how this disease can have significant effects on young people in the prime of their lives.”

 

You can find out more about Simple Tasks and how to support the campaign at www.simpletasks.org.uk.

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