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Causes of Death in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis impacts life expectancy.

Mortality rates are higher for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) compared with the general population, according to a new analysis published today in the journal Arthritis Care and Research. Study authors say that people with RA are nearly twice as likely to die before the age of 75, particularly due to heart disease and respiratory conditions.

The study followed 87,114 people with rheumatoid arthritis in Canada, with an average age of 57, and nearly 350,000 people age 15 and older from the general population from 2000 to 2013. During the study period, 14 percent of the people with rheumatoid arthritis and 9 percent of those in the general population group died.

“We knew that [people with rheumatoid arthritis had] premature mortality, but previously there had not been large enough sample sizes in studies to see where the exact differences may be occurring,” says lead author Jessica Widdifield, PhD, of Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto, an adjunct scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and assistant professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation at the University of Toronto in Toronto.

A New Way of Looking at the Mortality Numbers 

RA itself is not generally considered a lethal disease, and the rate of mortality attributed to it as the main underlying cause of death is on the decline. Deaths in people with RA had previously been seen as complications of RA and its treatment, so Widdifield and her team approached looking at RA mortality in a new way. They examined premature mortality and age at the time of death and the potential number of years of life lost. “That rate is double for people with RA,” says Widdifield. “This method puts more weight if you died at a younger age.” Of people with rheumatoid arthritis, 36 percent do not live to the age of 75, compared with 32 percent of people without the disease.

Read on: Causes of Death in Rheumatoid Arthritis | Everyday Health

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