Arthritis, a leading cause of disability among US adults, affects 46 million people. Arthritis-attributable work limitation (AAWL) can have substantial social and economic impacts including absenteeism, reduced productivity, work loss and lower income.

Led by Kristina A. Theis, MPH, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and researchers analyzed data from more than 31,000 adults over the age of 18. Based on their answers, an estimated 6.9 million individuals have AAWL.

Among working age adults, 1 in 20 reported AAWL, and, among those with arthritis, 1 in 3 reported AAWL. Adults with arthritis and AAWL had multiple indicators of poor physical health and function, such as high body mass index, joint pain, physical limitations in several activities, and frequent doctor's office visits. AAWL was more common in older age groups and, when adjusted for age, was found to have a higher prevalence among women, non-Hispanic blacks, and individuals with lower education and income.

The authors point out that the findings of the study are subject to limitations typical of observational studies. The information was collected by self-report, which may reflect recall bias, and the presence of arthritis was not confirmed by a health professional; it may be difficult to attribute work limitation to arthritis, especially if the person is suffering from multiple chronic conditions; the wording of the questionnaire did not distinguish between those who could not work and those whose work was simply affected in some way.

Nonetheless the size of the study enabled the authors to develop US national prevalence estimates for AAWL, the results of which can be used as a benchmark for future studies. Indirect costs of arthritis have been estimated at $35.1 billion for 1997.; Source: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.