Dr Ron Ozminkowski from the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at Cornell University and the Medstat Group Inc in Michigan led the study to establish medical expenditure and indirect costs for employees with RA, compared to those with other illnesses. Around one per cent of the population has RA.

In collaboration with Dr Wayne Burton from Northwestern University in Chicago, Dr Ozminkowski and colleagues looked at data from 8502 people with RA and the same number of people of similar age, gender, location, employment and healthcare plan, but with other disorders. "We then calculated expenditure on medical care, absenteeism and short term disability benefits over 12 months,” said Dr Burton.

"We found that RA averaged $4244 higher per person, per year than costs for other conditions, mostly due to medical care,” he continued. RA was more costly than cancers, diabetes, back pain, asthma and other chronic lung disorders, bipolar disorder (one of the most expensive psychiatric disorders) and kidney failure. Only depression, heart disease and high blood pressure cost more than RA.

Although there were no significant differences in absenteeism due to these illnesses, short term disability benefits cost an average of $802, an extra $130 compared to other disorders. Medical care for RA, however, was dramatically higher, costing $7337 whereas $3250 was attributable to the people who did not have RA.

Treatment is available and anyone who has symptoms would be well advised to seek medical advice promptly. "Employers and occupational physicians need to be aware of the costs of RA. Companies should assist employees with RA in their job situation and their transition back to work after a period of disability,” Dr Burton advised.

The study was posted by MR Communication and Analysis Ltd in Brussels