Patients wait 18 months after first experiencing any symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) before going to see their doctor, and they wait an average of seven years before their doctor starts treating with them a biologic drug, says a new study.

This is despite findings which show that patients who are being treated with a biologic are happier about how their illness is being controlled, report a reduction in the severity of their symptoms, are better educated about RA and enjoy a better relationship with their doctor, according to the researchers.

The study, which was carried out online amongst over 2,200 people in the US and five European Union (EU) nations who are suffering from moderate to severe RA, discovered that 55% of patients who are not being treated with a biologic had not discussed this option with their doctor. Moreover, 26% of the patients were found to have a related autoimmune disease such as psoriasis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBD), which could also be effectively treated with a biologic to reduce symptoms and slow progression, according to the report, which is published by global pharmaceutical research agency The Research Partnership.

RA has been shown to have a huge impact on patients' quality of life, and particularly on their ability to work; of those who still do work, the average RA sufferer takes three to four sick days a month because of their illness, the agency notes. Also, RA has an effect on every area of a patient's life, with around a third of sufferers telling the study that their illness had a major impact on their ability to participate in leisure activities, on their general wellbeing and on their sleeping habits.

The decision to start using a biologic is one usually taken by both the doctor and patient. Although patients reported initial anxiety about taking an injection, the majority were much more satisfied with how their disease was being treated, according to the researchers.

One patient told the study that they were "very happy" with the treatment because they did not need to take as much anti-inflammatory medication as before. "I definitely feel [it] is very effective, and the RA now has a low impact on my life compared to before I was on a biologic treatment. I am in less pain and my joints are less inflamed," the study quotes the patient as stating.