Simple Tasks: Fast facts


On this page you can find out various stats taken straight from our white paper Simple Tasks - Rheumatology in the UK: The problem. The impact. The solutions. 


Rheumatic conditions

Around 10 million people in the UK have a form of arthritis, of which almost 700,000 have rheumatoid arthritis, a rheumatic condition. 

Around 12,000 children suffer from juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which can cause the same types of pain, disability and co-existing conditions that adults with rheumatic conditions often experience. 

Rheumatic conditions can cause deformities so severe that those who suffer from them cannot bathe or dress themselves, while a simple task such as walking can cause pain and be difficult or even impossible. 

Rheumatic conditions can cause damage to vital organs, including the lungs, heart, nervous system, kidneys, skin and eyes. 

Window of opportunity 

The first weeks and months following the onset of rheumatic disease symptoms are known as the “window of opportunity,” and it is crucial that patients get appropriate treatment in that time period to avoid long-term complications.  

Treatment early in the disease, even within the first 12 weeks for some, can prevent damage to joints and other organs, improve long-term function, and increase the likelihood of achieving disease remission. 

When appropriate treatment is started early, medical costs, disability and work limitations due to rheumatic conditions can all be reduced.

The personal toll

Rheumatologists have led the way in discovering that the chronic inflammation associated with many rheumatic conditions can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Osteoporosis (brittle bones) is a major health problem in patients with rheumatic conditions, due both to the effects of the conditions, as well as their treatments. 

Mortality rates for people with diffuse scleroderma are 5 to 8 times greater than people of the same age and gender without the disease. 

Women who have lupus are substantially much more at risk of miscarriages, stillbirths and premature deaths. 

Additionally, polymyalgia rheumatica affects women twice as often and scleroderma affects women at least four times as often as men. 

Over 10% of people with RA report symptoms of depression. 

One recent study showed that people with chronic neck and back pain (just two of the areas that can be affected by rheumatic conditions) are twice as likely to develop an anxiety disorder as those without. 

The higher a person’s level of pain, physical disability and depression, the greater the effect on his or her sex drive and desire to be intimate. 

Collectively types of arthritis, including rheumatoid arthritis, is the most common condition for which people receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA). 

The provision of rheumatology services varies greatly throughout the UK with one rheumatologist per 70,000 people in one area to 1:147,576 in another. 

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

690,000 adults have the condition. 

Around three quarters of people diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis are of working age. 

75 per cent are women. 

There is no known cure for the condition.

There are approximately 20,000 new cases of rheumatoid arthritis in the UK every year. 

Without adequate therapy, the average life expectancy for a patient with RA may be shortened by 3-7 years, and those with severe forms of RA may die as much as 10-15 years earlier than expected.  

People with Rheumatoid Arthritis will visit a GP an average of four times before they are referred to a specialist for diagnosis, with 18 per cent visiting over eight times. 

In their most severe form, rheumatic conditions can lead to life-threatening infections (such as pneumonia) and a significantly higher risk for developing other associated conditions including heart disease and cancer. 

Just a year after a patient has been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, the risk of heart attack is 60 per cent higher than someone without Rheumatoid Arthritis. 

People with rheumatoid arthritis are twice as likely to die as people of the same age without RA in the general population. 

One in 10 people with RA will develop serious lung complications over the course of their disease due to damage to the lung tissue. 

People with RA have been found to be twice as likely as other individuals to experience depression. 

Up to four out of every 10 working people with rheumatoid arthritis lose their jobs within five years, three quarters of these are for reasons directly related to their condition. One in seven give up work within one year of diagnosis. 

It is estimated that 90% of people with RA experience foot pathology, which creates restricted mobility and concomitant pain. 

Ankylosing Spondylitis 

The prevalence of AS is between 0.2 – 0.5% of the adult population. 200,000 people suffer from AS in the UK.  

People with AS suffer an average 8 year delay between onset of symptoms and diagnosis. 

Work disability is a major problem with more than 50% suffering work instability. In addition, one-third of people with AS give up work before normal retirement age and another 15% reduce or change their work because of AS. 

People with AS are more likely to be divorced or never to have married and women with AS are less likely to have children.  

Since many people with AS are neither deformed nor have peripheral joint abnormalities, much of the burden of living with AS is invisible.  

AS leads to progressive spinal stiffness which may be accompanied by deformity. Up to 25% of people with AS eventually develop complete fusion of the spine which leads to substantial disability and restriction .

50% of people with AS also suffer from associated disorders – in particular 40% experience eye inflammation (iritis), 16% develop psoriasis and 10% inflammatory bowel disease. 

Economic and work effects

One fifth of people with rheumatic conditions were forced to change career as a result. 

One third of sufferers will have stopped working within two years of onset, and half will be unable to work within ten years. 

A person with rheumatoid arthritis will have an average of 40 days off work a year due to illness, as opposed to an average of 6.5 days a year for people without the illness. 

Ten million working days were lost in 2006-07 because of rheumatic disease and the total estimated cost to society is £5.7 billion per annum. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a major cause of sickness absence and unemployment, and this is estimated to cost around £1.8 billion per year. 

The latest figures show that arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis care led to a medical cost of around £689 million a year in the UK.  

Reducing indirect costs, such as work limitations or even loss of work, can save the UK economy around £31 million a year for rheumatoid arthritis alone. 

Impact on carers

57% reported a negative or very negative effect on their household income.

41% said that they had had difficulties in their relationship as a result of RA.

63% of respondents thought that there were negative effects on their children.

93% agreed that a public awareness campaign would help. 

All stats on this page are referenced in the Simple Tasks white paper Simple Tasks - Rheumatology in the UK: The problem. The impact. The solution. and the Simple Tasks: Fast facts document, both available here.