ARTHRITIS sufferers are forced to take six times more sick days than their healthier colleagues, new estimates suggest.

The average rheumatoid arthritis sufferer who is in work takes 40 days off every year as a result of their symptoms - six times more than the average worker, the British Society for Rheumatology said.

Meanwhile, one in seven patients are forced to give up work altogether one year after diagnosis.

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Three quarters of cases are people of working age.

The NHS estimates that the condition, which causes pain and swelling in the joints, affects 580,000 people in England and Wales.

The Society has launched a Simple Tasks campaign to highlight the "significant effects" of rheumatic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Professor Simon Bowman, president of the British Society for Rheumatology, said: "The Simple Tasks campaign is to emphasise that these diseases are significant, that they do lead to major effects on real people's lives."

Meanwhile, a new survey by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society and 2020Health of 2000 rheumatoid arthritis sufferers found that 89% suffer from chronic fatigue.

However, only half said they had spoken about the issue with their specialist nurse or rheumatologist.