The challenging interplay between rheumatoid arthritis, ageing and comorbidities

Marloes van Onna*, Annelies Boonen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: The incidence of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is expected to increase over the next 10 years in the European Union because of the increasing proportion of elderly people. As both RA and ageing are associated with emerging comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, malignancies and osteoporosis, these factors will have a profound effect on the management of RA. In addition, both increasing age and comorbidities may independently alter commonly used RA-specific outcome measures. Discussion: Age-related decline in immune cell functions (immunosenescence), such as a decrease in T-cell function, may contribute to the development of RA, as well as comorbidity. The chronic immune stimulation that occurs in RA may also lead to premature ageing and comorbidity. The interplay between RA, ageing and (emerging) comorbidities is interesting but complex. Cardiovascular disease, lung disease, malignancies, bone and muscle wasting and neuropsychiatric disease all occur more frequently in RA patients as compared to the general population. It is unclear how RA should be managed in 'today's world of multiple comorbidities'. Evidence that treatment of RA improves comorbidities is currently lacking, although some promising indirect observations are available. On the other hand, there is limited evidence that medication regularly prescribed for comorbidities, such as statins, might improve RA disease activity. Both ageing and comorbidity have an independent effect on commonly used outcome measures in the RA field, such as the Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ) and the clinical disease activity index (CDAI). Prospective studies, that also account for the presence of comorbidity in (elderly) RA patients are therefore urgently needed. To address gaps in knowledge, future research should focus on the complex interdependencies between RA, ageing and comorbidity. In addition, these findings should be integrated into daily clinical practice by developing and testing integrated and coordinated health care services. Adaptation of management recommendations is likely required. Summary: The elderly RA patient who also deals with (emerging) comorbidities presents a unique challenge to treating clinicians. A paradigm shift from disease-centered to goal-oriented approach is needed to develop adequate health care services for these patients.
Original languageEnglish
Article number184
JournalBMC Musculoskeletal Disorders
Publication statusPublished - 26 Apr 2016


  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Ageing
  • Elderly
  • Comorbidity
  • Multimorbidity

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