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Too Few Get Needed Rheumatoid Arthritis Drugs: Study
Date:2/1/2011

By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Feb. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Many people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, many of them minority patients, aren't getting needed drug treatment, a new study finds.

Prescription drugs designed to slow progression of the deformities and disability related to rheumatoid arthritis should be used aggressively and early, expert guidelines say.

"Both patients and doctors need to be aware that patients with active rheumatoid arthritis need to be taking disease-modifying agents," said lead researcher Dr. Gabriela Schmajuk, an instructor in immunology and rheumatology at Stanford University School of Medicine.

"Patients need to be proactive about asking for these medications or asking to be referred to a provider that specializes in rheumatic diseases," she added.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body is attacking its own tissues, which in turn causes swelling, pain and loss of function in the joints. Most of the 1.3 million Americans with the disease are women.

The report is published in the Feb. 2 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

For the study, Schmajuk's team collected data from 2005 to 2008 on 93,143 Medicare patients with rheumatoid arthritis whose average age was 74.

Overall, about 63 percent of these patients were taking disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, with the proportion rising to 67 percent by 2008, the researchers note. Schmajuk estimates that 90 percent of RA patients need these drugs.

"We found variations based on age, gender, race, geographic area, as well as health plan," Schmajuk said.

People 85 years and older were 30 percent less likely to receive the drugs than those 65 to 69 years old, Schmajuk's group found.

Blacks, men, the poor and patients living in low-income areas were also less likely to get antirheumatic medications, the researchers sa
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