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Rheumatoid arthritis patients can benefit from joint replacement surgery, study says

June 14, 2013

Joint replacement surgery is a popular method of treating osteoarthritis among the senior population. After recovery, patients often return to their  previous levels of mobility and activity - an essential part of healthy senior living. Although the benefits of artificial joints for OA patients are well-known, it's less clear what impact they could have on seniors with rheumatoid arthritis. After all, the two conditions are substantially different because RA is an autoimmune disease and OA is caused by wear and tear. However, new research suggests that RA patients may be able to benefit just as much from joint replacement.

The findings were presented recently at the annual Congress of Rheumatology in Spain, and are based on extensive analysis by researchers from New York's Hospital for Special Surgery. Scientists pored over data from the hospital's Total Joint Replacement Registry, which was started in 2007, and analyzed how patients with RA fared after surgery compared to patients with OA. They looked at subjects who had total knee replacement - 178 had RA and 5,206 had OA - and found that both groups benefited significantly from the surgery. 

"In RA patients, their preoperative scores were significantly worse than the osteoarthritis controls, but in fact our knee replacement patients caught up," said lead author Dr. Susan Goodman.

Experts say RA patients benefit more from joint replacement surgery because recent advancements in medicine have allowed them to better manage their symptoms. The results are particularly important given the prevalence of arthritis in the senior population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 50 million people report having been told by their doctor they have some form of arthritis, and one in two adults will have OA in their knees by the time they're 85.