To evaluate labor force characteristics among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in Lithuania. To assess if Lithuania's transition from a state-planned to a free-market economy after 1990 changed the employment perspectives of patients with RA.
RA patients, age 16–65 years (n = 238), were randomly selected from the RA register in Vilnius. They completed questions about sociodemographics, working status, and disease characteristics, they underwent a clinical examination, and they completed the modified Health Assessment Questionnaire and the Short Form 36.
Age- and sex-adjusted employment was 24.2% lower and work disability 51.7% higher in patients compared with the general population in Lithuania. After 10 years of disease, 48% of the patients had withdrawn from the labor force. In those with a paid job, the average sick leave in the past year was 31.9 days compared with the national average of 10.8 days. Although disease activity was not significantly different in employed compared with work-disabled patients, physical function and perceived quality of life (except general health) were worse among patients with work disability. The change in economic organization in 1990 was noted to increase the risk for work withdrawal by a factor of 2.75 (95% confidence interval 1.68–4.53).
In Lithuania, the impact of RA on work disability is important. Although work disability in Lithuanian patients with RA seems more pronounced compared with reports from Western societies, variables associated with work disability are comparable. The transition to a market-orientated economy in 1990 increased the risk of becoming work disabled.