Rheumatoid arthritis is on the rise in the UK, according to a June 2023 publication by Dr Nathalie Conrad and colleagues published in The Lancet. Using the electronic health records of 22,009,375 individuals followed between 2000 and 2019, these researchers identified a significant increase in the age-standardised incidence rate of rheumatoid arthritis by comparing new cases annually via the 2013 European Standard Population. Perhaps more notably, however, these researchers also found that individuals with the highest levels of socioeconomic deprivation were more likely to be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis than those with the lowest levels of socioeconomic deprivation, as defined by the Index of Multiple Deprivation 2015 quintiles. This trend suggests that socioeconomic status may play a role in disease development. These results indicate that more research is needed to examine how exactly socioeconomic status impacts the aetiology of rheumatoid arthritis to potentially target individuals at higher risk as the burden of rheumatoid arthritis grows in the UK.

According to GlobalData, over 24,500 new cases of rheumatoid arthritis will be diagnosed in the UK in 2023, and newly diagnosed cases are expected to grow to over 25,400 annually by 2029. If cases continue to grow at the rate observed by Conrad and colleagues, however, this figure could be significantly higher, as in their estimates, between 2000–2002 and 2017–2019, cases rose from 58.4 to 94.0 incident cases per 100,000 individuals. Such high growth in rheumatoid arthritis necessitates additional efforts by public health researchers and doctors to identify individuals at risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. Doing so can help reduce its morbidity by linking individuals to treatment earlier, which can reduce the risk of joint damage and slow down the progression of the autoimmune disease.

A potential avenue to assist in identifying at-risk patients is by conducting more research on how socioeconomic disparities affect the aetiology of rheumatoid arthritis, as Conrad and colleagues found that individuals with the highest levels of socioeconomic deprivation had 1.55 times higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis relative to individuals with the lowest levels of socioeconomic deprivation. These differences are important, as they not only imply that the least advantaged people had a 55% higher chance of developing rheumatoid arthritis compared to the most well-off, but the impacts of the disease could most harm them as it impacts an individual’s ability to be productive at work, which could further increase inequities.

As projected cases of rheumatoid arthritis continue to rise, it becomes crucial for public health researchers and healthcare professionals to identify at-risk individuals to provide early interventions and reduce the associated morbidity. By addressing the socioeconomic disparities associated with the disease, strides can be made towards a more equitable and practical approach to managing rheumatoid arthritis in the UK.

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