Study finds an increase in the proportion of adults in England diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis

The proportion of adults in England diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis has increased by at least 40% between 2004 to 2020, new Keele University research has found.

Inflammatory arthritis groups together conditions causing joint pain and swelling. Its three main types - rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and axial spondyloarthritis - cause long-term pain and disability and have high costs to the UK economy. The earlier people with inflammatory arthritis receive specialist treatment, the better their outcomes.

Led by Dr Ian Scott from Keele University's School of Medicine and Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), this study published in The Lancet Regional Health - Europe looked at the proportion of adults in England with a diagnosis of one of these three conditions in each year from 2004 to 2020.

Planning NHS services to deliver early and appropriate specialist treatment to patients with inflammatory arthritis requires understanding how many people in England have these conditions. To address this, the research team looked at data from a large GP database - the Clinical Practice Research Datalink Aurum - which currently includes information from over 1,400 GP practices across 20% of England. They looked at data from 2004 to 2020, to understand how the prevalence of inflammatory arthritis diagnoses have changed in that time.

They found that the proportion of adults in England with a diagnosis of one of these forms of inflammatory arthritis increased over the study period by at least 40%. This meant that in 2020 over 1% of adults and over 2.5% of those aged over 65 years in England had a diagnosis in their GP records of one of these conditions.

Our findings have significant implications for the NHS in England. Many studies have shown that the earlier people with inflammatory arthritis receive specialist treatment the better they do, and it is very important that people with new onset inflammatory arthritis or suffering a flare of their arthritis are seen quickly. Organizing NHS services to enable this is vital.

Our results show that these conditions are more common in people aged over 65 years. This highlights the need to consider older people when planning arthritis NHS services. We need to particularly make sure that the widespread move to online healthcare does not adversely affect older people with arthritis, as other studies have shown they are less likely to use the internet and have the essential digital skills to access it independently."

Dr Ian Scott, Lead Author

Journal reference:

Scott, I.C., et al. (2022) Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and axial spondyloarthritis epidemiology in England from 2004 to 2020: An observational study using primary care electronic health record data. The Lancet Regional Health - Europe.


  1. N Magali N Magali United Kingdom says:

    Twice I was diagnosed with arthritis on a telephone appointment with the GP. Both times I told the GP he was wrong. The first time was when I had covid toes in the Summer. It was coming and going and sometimes terribly itchy.
    The second time was after I pulled our 30kg dog out of the canal by his collar with two fingers. First I thought my fingers were broken  But when I came home, it wasn't that bad anymore.
    When I tried to book an appointment with the GP, both times I was asked to sent a picture. I described how I hurt my fingers and the doctor just told me that he could se that I had arthritis and he wanted to prescribe me medication. Both times I refused. I told him that it was not arthritis and that nobody in my family has arthritis. He was still sure that it was arthritis. But if I wanted, I could go to A&E and then let the GP know what they told me there.
    After six weeks, my fingers were still hurting and I went to A&E were a very kind doctor Steve told me that it wasn't arthritis, but that the problem was with my tendons and he gave me some excercises to do.
    I'm not at all surprised at all with what this article is telling me. The GP just did want to solve my problem prescribing arthritis medication. And because he is a doctor, a lot of people will just accept what he says.
    I really think that being diagnosed with arthritis and really having arthritis are two different things.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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