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Rheumatoid Arthritis, Work, and Disability

Understanding the impact RA can have on the workplace and your career.

How does RA interfere with a person's ability to work?

Richard Pope, MD, is a rheumatologist and professor at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. He tells WebMD that measuring how much time employees take off work can show how effective their therapy is.

In one recent survey of people with RA, researchers found that over a three-month period, employees with rheumatoid arthritis took off an average of two to three weeks from work. In an earlier study, researchers noted that many employees with RA not only altered their working hours but also either changed their job or pursued a different career altogether.

According to Pope, the newer medicines for rheumatoid arthritis seem to work best for employees who have been diagnosed for less than 10 years and don't have joint deformities. But medication isn't the only factor. Pope says that age, occupation, education level, and duration of the disease are all predictors of work disability among people with rheumatoid arthritis.

What can people with RA do to make it easier to do their job?

The Arthritis Foundation offers the following suggestions for making it easier to stay in the workplace:

  • Maintain a positive attitude.
  • Create an efficient work environment so you limit the amount of lifting, reaching, carrying, and walking you do.
  • Try not to sit in one position or do repetitive activity for long periods of time.
  • Set priorities and pace yourself. Do the most important tasks while you feel strongest and most energetic.
  • Maintain a schedule. Go to bed at a regular time and get enough rest to carry you through the next day.

Tom Juneman of Houston has another important suggestion: Let your employer know what your limitations are, and ask if you can take breaks throughout the day.

Juneman, 55, communicates well with his boss, he says, so that he knows when a report is due and plans his day accordingly. When he teaches religious school he sits down between classes. When he uses an adding machine in his bookkeeping job, he favors the fingers that are "less worn" to do the job. Juneman, 55, also swims every morning.

Juneman was diagnosed with RA as a college student 35 years ago and now takes the biologic drug Remicade. "I still have fatigue," he says. "I tend to stay close to my coffee and sodas, but I try not to overdo it. I really have to learn to get proper sleep and rest, which I didn't do in my earlier life."

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