Background It has previously been found that the majority of patients with rheumatoid arthritis or seronegative spondylarthritis consult rheumatologists long after their disease onset; therefore, both correct diagnosis and treatment are delayed1,2. The reasons for this delay are unknown.
Objectives To assess the level of awareness of the rheumatic diseases in the general population using as criteria i) the knowledge of which system or organs are mainly affected by rheumatic diseases, and) ii) the estimation of the study participants regarding the level of the public education on these diseases.
Methods This phone survey was conducted on a randomly selected sample of 3910 adults (≥19 yrs old)in urban, suburban and rural areas in northern, central and southern Greece. The study was based on a standardized questionnaire aiming to reveal i) the level of public awareness regarding which system or organs are mainly affected by rheumatic diseases, and ii) the level of public education on rheumatic diseases on the basis of responses to the question: Do you consider that the level of public education on rheumatic diseases is: nonexistent, minimal, sufficient or high?
Results From the 3910 subjects, 3433 (mean age 55.1±16.7 yrs, median 56 yrs, women 75.3%) participated in the study (response rate 87.8%). Of these subjects 2445 were healthy and 988 (28,8%) were patients with non-traumatic pain involving their joints, back or neck. The level of awareness of the rheumatic diseases was very low, since only 13.3% of the study participants considered that these diseases affect mainly the musculoskeletal system or joints. The level of awareness was significantly higher among women (14.4%) compared to men (10%) (p<0.001) as well as in the 19-55 age group (15%) compared to the group aged ≥56 (11.6%) (p=0.004). The percentages of patients who had consulted rheumatologists for non-traumatic pain in their joints, back or neck were significantly higher among those who knew that rheumatic diseases affect the musculoskeletal system or joints (68.4%, 22.7%, 48.4%, respectively) than among those who did not have this knowledge (5.8%, 0.4%, 1.6%, respectively) (p<0.0001 for all comparisons). Public education on rheumatic diseases was considered as nonexistent by 47.1% of the study participants, minimal by 47.5%, sufficient by 5.1% and high by 0.3%. The level of nonexistent public education increased with age from 37.3% in the 19-29 age group to 55% in the group aged ≥70 (p<0.0001). In contrast, the level of minimal public education decreased with age from 56% in the 19-29 age group to 40.2% in the group aged ≥70 (p<0.0001). The level of public education was also significantly correlated with the living location (data not shown).
Conclusions The findings of this study suggest that the level of public awareness of rheumatic diseases is very low and it leads to the delayed visit of patients with such diseases to rheumatologists. Moreover, public education on rheumatic diseases is minimal to nonexistent. For these reasons and since rheumatic diseases constitute a major public health problem3, a program for systematic education of the public at a national level on rheumatic diseases is highly needed.
Andrianakos A et al Rheumatology 2006;45:1549-1554
Trontzas P et al Clin Rheumatol 2005;24:583-589
Andrianakos A et al Rheumatology 2005;44:932-938
Disclosure of Interest None Declared