Hospitalisation and the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is usually managed by general practitioners in partnership with rheumatologists and allied health professionals (such as physiotherapists) and centres on managing pain, reducing inflammation and joint damage, and preventing loss of function.

Severe disease may require hospitalisation to relieve pain and restore function to damaged joints.

Data from the AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (NHMD) show that, in 2015–16:

  • there were 13,188 hospitalisations with the principal diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, a rate of 55 hospitalisations per 100,000 population
  • nearly three-quarters (74%) of rheumatoid arthritis hospitalisations were for females, and the remaining 26% were for males
  • the hospitalisation rate was lowest among those aged 40 and under, increased until the age of 70–74, and then decreased again among people aged 75 and over (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Rate of hospitalisation for rheumatoid arthritis, by sex and age, 2015–16

The vertical bar chart shows that in 2015–16, the hospitalisation rate for the principal diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis was 3 times higher for females than males. The hospitalisation rate increased with age until the age of 70–74.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (Data table).

From 2005–06 to 2015–16, age standardised hospitalisation rate for rheumatoid arthritis increased by 72%: from 29 per 100,000 to 50 per 100,000 population. This increase was driven by a 74% increase in hospitalisations for females (from 42 to 73 per 100,000 females), compared with a 53% increase for males (from 17 to 26 per 100,000 males) (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Rate of hospitalisation for rheumatoid arthritis, by sex, 2005–06 to 2015–16

The line chart shows that between 2005–06 and 2015–16, hospitalisation rates for rheumatoid arthritis rose for females and was relatively constants for males.

Note: Rates are age-standardised to the Australian population as at 30 June 2001.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database (Data table).

Common hospital procedures for rheumatoid arthritis

In 2015–16, a total of 21,881 procedures were performed in rheumatoid arthritis hospitalisations. Administration of pharmacotherapy (44%), generalised allied health interventions (including physiotherapy, occupational therapy and dietetics) (24%) and cerebral anaesthesia (9%) were the most common groups (blocks) of procedures for rheumatoid arthritis hospitalisations.

Between 2005–06 and 2015–16, there was a marked increase in the number of procedures for administration of pharmacotherapy: from 2,853 procedures in 2005–06 to 9,585 procedures in 2015–16.