Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2020) Rheumatoid arthritis, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 21 May 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2020). Rheumatoid arthritis. Retrieved from https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 August 2020, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Rheumatoid arthritis [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2020 [cited 2022 May. 21]. Available from: https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2020, Rheumatoid arthritis, viewed 21 May 2022, https://pp.aihw.gov.au/reports/chronic-musculoskeletal-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis
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Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect anyone at any age, and may cause significant pain and disability.
Rheumatoid arthritis is most common in people aged 75 years or over
About 456,000 Australians (1.9% of the total population) have rheumatoid arthritis
In 2017–18, there were 12,045 hospitalisations for rheumatoid arthritis, a rate of 43 per 100,000 persons
Rates of rheumatoid arthritis are slightly higher for women (2.3%) than men (1.5%)
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease characterised by inflammation of the joints, causing inflammation, pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints. Rheumatoid arthritis most often affects the hand joints and both sides of the body at the same time (CDC 2019).
In a healthy joint, the tissue lining the joint (called the synovial membrane or joint synovium) is very thin and produces fluid that lubricates and nourishes joint tissues (RACGP 2009). In rheumatoid arthritis, the immune system attacks the synovial membrane (RACGP 2009). The synovial membrane becomes thick and inflamed, resulting in unwanted tissue growth (Figure 1). As a result, bone erosion and irreversible joint damage can occur, leading to permanent disability (RACGP 2009).
Source: AIHW 2015.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease, affecting the whole body, including the organs. This can lead to problems with the heart, respiratory system, nerves and eyes (CDC 2019). Its cause is not well understood although there is a strong genetic component (CDC 2019). Genetic factors are estimated to contribute 50-60% of the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis (Tobón et al. 2010).
An estimated 456,000 Australians (1.9% of the total population) have rheumatoid arthritis, based on self-reported data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2017–18 National Health Survey (NHS) (ABS 2018). Rheumatoid arthritis represented 13% of all arthritic conditions in 2017–18.
Rheumatoid arthritis is most common in people aged 75 years and over (Figure 2), although the onset of rheumatoid arthritis most frequently occurs in those aged 35–64 (AIHW 2009; Duarte-Garcia 2019). The prevalence of this disease is 1.5 times higher in women (2.3%) than men (1.5%).
Note: refers to people who self-reported that they were diagnosed by a doctor or nurse as having rheumatoid arthritis (current and long term) and also people who self-reported having rheumatoid arthritis.
Source: AIHW analysis of ABS 2019 (Data table).
There has been little change in the prevalence over the past 10 years. It is difficult to evaluate the full impact of this condition on affected individuals due to the limited national statistics available.
ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics) 2018. National Health Survey: First Results, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS.
ABS 2019. Microdata: National Health Survey, 2017-18, detailed microdata, DataLab. ABS cat no. 4324.0.55.001. Canberra: ABS. Findings based on AIHW analysis of ABS microdata.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare) 2009. A picture of rheumatoid arthritis in Australia. Arthritis series no. 9. Cat. no. PHE 110. Canberra: AIHW.
AIHW 2015. Musculoskeletal fact sheet: rheumatoid arthritis. Arthritis series no.24. Cat. no. PHE 188. Canberra: AIHW.
CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) 2019. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Atlanta:CDC. Viewed 16 March 2020.
Duarte-Garcia A 2019. Rheumatoid Arthritis. Atlanta: American College of Rheumatology. Viewed 16 March 2020.
RACGP (The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners) 2009. Clinical guideline for the diagnosis and management of early rheumatoid arthritis. Melbourne: RACGP.
Tobón GJ, Youinou P & Saraux A 2010. The environment, geo-epidemiology, and autoimmune disease: Rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Autoimmunity 35 (1):10–14.
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