Disability Halved in RA Patients, but Specialists Still Hard to Find

Two new studies on rheumatoid arthritis indicate that symptoms are improving for many patients, but that rheumatologists aren’t always easy to access.

Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is no walk in the park, but a new study shows that today’s RA patients, on the whole, have an easier time than patients who were diagnosed 20 years ago.

Researchers say that early intervention, biologic drugs, and the use of therapy have all helped to decrease RA disease activity for many patients.

Medications to treat RA have improved, and now include biologic agents, which may have a positive effect on psychological distress by blocking pro- inflammatory cytokines, she said. Also, exercise and cognitive behavioral therapy are now more widely used.

“Over the years, research and treatment focus has widened from just trying to cure the disease to focusing more on the patient as a whole, trying to (find out how to) improve the patient’s quality of life,” Overman said.

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A Shortage of Rheumatologists in Rural Areas

While RA patients seem to be doing better than they have in the past, a new study in Arthritis & Rheumatism shows that people in rural areas have a difficult time finding a rheumatologist to diagnose and treat their disease.

The study shows that there are only about 1.7 rheumatologists for every 100,000 Americans. And as more people age, experts say there will be a shortage of 2,500 rheumatologists by 2025—up from their expected shortage of 400 rheumatologists in 2010.

In areas with fewer than 50,000 people, the researchers saw especially limited access. In fact, in 50 of the 479 “micropolitan” areas they studied, patients traveled more than 100 miles to see their physicians. They also noted many regions with more than 200,000 people that had no practicing rheumatologists.

In general, the researchers observed a higher concentration of rheumatology offices in areas with larger populations and higher median incomes.

In a related editorial in Arthritis & Rheumatism, Dr. Chad Deal of the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio said that rheumatologists are vital for early RA diagnosis and treatment, which is imperative in the first few months of the disease in order to limit joint damage, improve physical function, and drive remission.

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