Arthritis in Canada – Key Messages
Arthritis in Canada is the first report to paint a comprehensive
picture of arthritis in Canada. The Report is a joint effort of
a number of groups involved in arthritis care, including Health
Canada, the Arthritis Community Research & Evaluation Unit (ACREU),
The Arthritis Society, and the Canadian Arthritis Network (CAN).
Prior to the development of this report, arthritis surveillance
activities had been minimal.
- Arthritis in Canada is the first national report to
include data from population health surveys, provincial physician
billing and drug databases, hospital admissions and day surgery
procedures, as well as mortality data.
- In addition to national and provincial ministries of health,
more than 25 other parties were involved in the development and
review of Arthritis in Canada, including hospital and
university researchers, clinicians and consumers.
Arthritis is a leading cause of pain, physical disability and healthcare
utilization in Canada.
- Approximately one in six Canadian adults aged 15 years and over
reported having arthritis as a long-term health condition.i
Within a decade, one million more Canadians are expected to have
arthritis or related conditions.
- Arthritis not only affects elderly people: three in five Canadians
with arthritis are younger than 65.ii
- There are almost as many of people with arthritis in Canada
as in the population of British Columbia. There are more people
with arthritis in Canada in the pre-retirement years than in the
combined population of the four Maritime Provinces.
- At $16.4 billion, musculoskeletal conditions, including arthritis,
are the second most costly category of diseases in Canada annually.iii
A conservative estimate for the economic costs of arthritis alone
is $4.4 billion. Long-term disability accounts for almost 80%
of arthritis related costs, with 70% of these costs incurred by
individuals aged 35 to 64.iv
Note: The most costly group of diseases is
This report is a critical first step in understanding how to improve
the quality of life for people living with arthritis and to make
the most of valuable health care resources. It provides important
insights for planning arthritis care and treatment.
- Arthritis is one of the leading reasons for physician visits
(after allergy and back pain/injury). Canadians make almost 9
million visits per year to doctors for arthritis, mainly to primary
care physicians. Only 18 per cent see a medical specialist.v
- Primary care physicians play a central role in the management
of arthritis, yet gaps in musculoskeletal education have been
documented in undergraduate medical education and postgraduate
- Prescribing patterns of arthritis-related drugs varied among
the provinces, likely related in part to the availability of drugs
on provincial formularies.
- Although the percentage of people with prescriptions for disease-modifying
anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), which are effective in treating
rheumatoid arthritis, has increased steadily over time, the provision
of these drugs falls short of the estimated prevalence of this
- Considerable provincial variation in both orthopaedic procedures
and medical admissions for arthritis and related conditions was
- The decline in rates of surgery as age increases and the lower
rates in women for all but joint replacements raise issues of
inequities in access to care that need to be investigated.
- Although the prevalence of arthritis is increasing, the static
trend in rates of orthopaedic procedures suggests that the system’s
ability to meet future needs should be examined.
- To date, the focus of research in the area of arthritis has
been on prevention and control through treatment and medication.
More research could be undertaken, particularly in the area of
primary prevention and patient education, as well as into identifying
the cause(s) of arthritis.
- Arthritis in Canada. September 2003. Chapter
2, p. 2: figure 2.1
- Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 3: 2.3
- Ibid., Chapter 3, pp. 9-10: 3.5
- Ibid., Chapter 2, p. 18: 2.4
- Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 87: 5.6
- Ibid., Chapter 6, p. 10: 6.1, p.18: 6.2