Rheumatoid Arthritis by the Numbers: Facts and Statistics

rheumatoid arthritis facts

Rheumatoid Arthritis Facts and Statistics

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the most common forms of arthritis. It can affect anyone of any age or background.

RA affects 1.3 million American adults, this according to the American College of Rheumatology. Worldwide, RA prevalence is up to 1%, this according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Prevalence of RA

Age and Gender

The average onset of RA is between the ages of 30 and 60, but RA can strike at any age. Even children can develop the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, the lifetime risk of developing RA is 3.6% for women and 1.7% for men.

Women tend to develop RA much earlier in life, during their 30s and 40s. The course of the disease also differs between the genders.

Research shows women report more symptoms than men and their symptoms tend to be worse. Further, women may not respond to treatment as well as men do.

If you are a woman with RA, you are less likely to achieve remission, which is a period where you no longer experience symptoms and pain.

Women with RA may also develop fibromyalgia, which makes RA symptoms even worse. In fact, 5%-20% of people with RA also have fibromyalgia, this according to researchers from The Royal Wolverhampton Hospital, Wolverhampton, United Kingdom.

Researchers think hormones play a role in the development of RA, which may explain as to why more women are affected. Women tend to develop the disease at times when their hormones are unstable, such as after pregnancy or around menopause.


RA in Children and Older Adults

According to the Arthritis Foundation, at least 300,000 children under the age of 16 have arthritis or a rheumatic condition. Just like adult RA, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is caused by the immune system attacking its healthy tissues because it perceives them as foreign invaders.

Researchers believe children with JRA have the same genetic triggers as adults in the development of JRA. Moreover, children with JRA experience some of the same symptoms seen in adult RA.

The prevalence of RA in adults over age 60 is 2%. Treating RA in the elderly population can be challenging.

One of the problems older adults with RA face is sensitivity to RA medications. Taking other medications and having other diseases can also result in drug interactions, medication side effects, and even an advanced form of the disease.

Race and Ethnicity

RA does affect certain races and ethnicities more than others – not just in prevalence, but also in disease severity.

One report from Arthritis Research & Therapy finds Native Americans are at the highest risk for developing RA, which is up to 4 times higher than Europeans.   Genetic factors are likely to blame for higher incidences related to race and ethnicity.

People of Afro-Caribbean origin are at the lowest for developing RA. In the United States, African Americans, European-Americans and Chinese Americans appear to have lower incidences of RA while those of South African origin tend to have higher RA incidence rates.

One 2013 report in the American Journal of Medicine finds significant differences in disease activity across ethnic and racial groups, with the lowest levels of disease activity in whites. Moreover, remission rates are highest in whites and lowest in African Americans.

Globally, the highest mortality rates associated with RA are in are the African Continent. The countries with the highest rates of RA are in Europe, with Finland having the most cases of RA.

Next page: Learn about the risk factors of RA and what you can do to decrease your risk.

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