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New Inflammatory Arthritis Diagnoses Down Early in Pandemic

20.3 percent drop seen in new diagnoses in year commencing April 2020; median time to first rheumatology assessment decreased

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 9, 2022 (HealthDay News) — During the early phase of the pandemic, there was a decrease in new inflammatory arthritis diagnoses, according to a study published online Nov. 3 in The Lancet Rheumatology.

Mark D. Russell, M.B., B.Chir., from King’s College London, and colleagues examined the incidence of inflammatory arthritis diagnoses recorded in primary care, time to first rheumatology assessment, time to first prescription of a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD) in primary care, and choice of first DMARD among 17,683,500 adults registered with general practices in England.

The researchers identified 31,280 incident inflammatory arthritis diagnoses recorded between April 1, 2019, and March 31, 2022. In the year commencing April 2020, new inflammatory arthritis diagnoses decreased by 20.3 percent relative to the preceding year (5.1 versus 6.4 per 10,000 adults). During the pandemic, the median time to first rheumatology assessment was shorter than before (18 versus 21 days). There was a similar proportion of patients prescribed DMARDs in primary care before and during the pandemic; however, fewer patients were prescribed methotrexate or leflunomide and more were prescribed sulfasalazine or hydroxychloroquine during the pandemic.

“This study highlights that there are likely to be people with joint pain and swelling who remain undiagnosed as a consequence of the pandemic,” Russell said in a statement. “It is important to speak to a doctor if you have these symptoms, as early diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis greatly improves outcomes for patients and increases the likelihood of disease remission.”

Several authors disclosed financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry, including Pfizer, which provided a grant for partial funding of the study.

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