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A report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) highlights how important early diagnosis and medical intervention are in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

'Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects around 400,000 Australians,' said Tracy Dixon of the AIHW's Respiratory and Musculoskeletal Diseases Unit.

'The disease is more common among females and in older age groups and, if left untreated, can cause joint damage and deformities, especially of the hands,' she said.

The disease can also reduce a person's capacity to work, with only 31% of those affected in full-time employment in 2004-05 compared with 53% of the general population.

'Medications that help the immune system to fight rheumatoid arthritis, reducing inflammation and further joint damage, improve the prospect for patients with rheumatoid arthritis,' President of the Australian Rheumatology Association, Dr Geoffrey McColl said.

'Education to help people self-manage the disease also plays an important role in achieving the best outcome,' he added.

Although management of rheumatoid arthritis centres around medication, other therapies including exercise, massage and water therapy are useful. Occupational therapy and surgery can also be helpful.

The report, A picture of rheumatoid arthritis in Australia, uses the most recent information available to provide a concise, easy to read booklet about rheumatoid arthritis, supported by up to date statistical information.

The booklet has been prepared jointly by the AIHW, Arthritis Australia, the Australian Rheumatology Association and the Department of Health and Ageing. It is the last in a series of three booklets about musculoskeletal diseases, intended for the general public.

The series will soon be available in most public libraries across Australia.

Thursday 5 March 2009

Further information: Ms Tracy Dixon, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1103, mob. 0407 915 851

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.

Availability: Check the AIHW Publications area for the availability of A picture of rheumatoid arthritis in Australia.