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Do more and more people in Germany have rheumatoid arthritis?

An increasing number of press releases report a rising prevalence of „rheumatism“ in Germany. What is behind this? Katinka Albrecht, Johanna Callhoff and Anja Strangfeld from the German Rheumatism Reseach Centre`s Epidemiology and Health Services Research programme area have taken a closer look at the studies and confirm that the claims diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is occurring more frequently in health insurance data today. The reasons are manifold and have mainly to do with increased life expectancy.

Almost always, “rheumatism” refers to the diagnosis of RA. All press releases are based on studies with health insurance data in which the claims diagnosis of RA is much more common today than 10 or 15 years ago. There may be several reasons for this – from services linked to specific billing diagnoses to changes in the age structure of the population. Today, many more older people live in Germany and with them the diagnosis of rheumatism also “ages”. Thus it persists over a longer period of time as people reach 80, 90 or even 100 years of age. However, it is also known that early and consistent treatment of RA significantly reduces the risk of death. It can therefore be assumed that, in addition to increased life expectancy, longer survival due to better therapy also contributes to the larger number of patients with RA.

In order to determine precisely how many people in Germany have an inflammatory rheumatic disease, elaborate studies with random samples from the population are needed, in which all persons with a suspected rheumatic disease also receive a clinical rheumatological examination. Billing data alone cannot provide this clinical confirmation of the diagnosis.

“Therefore, based on the available data, we can only estimate that today about 0.8-1.2% of the adult population in Germany has RA,” Prof. Strangfeld summarises the results.

Link to Publication
Albrecht, K., Callhoff, J. & Strangfeld, A. Steigt die Prävalenz der rheumatoiden Arthritis wirklich an?. Z Rheumatol (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00393-022-01192-7
Further studies on frequencies of inflammatory rheumatic diseases
The AG Health Services research has been observing the studies on frequencies of inflammatory rheumatic diseases for many years and has repeatedly used the data to estimate the prevalence (see also [How frequent are musculoskeletal diseases in Germany?]. Zink A, Albrecht K. Z Rheumatol. 2016 May;75(4):346-53. doi: 10.1007/s00393-016-0094-2.
Interim Group Leader Dr. Katinka Albrecht albrecht@drfz.de more
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