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Delays in help seeking at the onset of the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic synthesis of qualitative literature

Abstract

A systematic review of qualitative peer-reviewed publications was conducted to identify drivers of and barriers to help-seeking behaviour in adults with new-onset rheumatoid arthritis (RA). 1058 abstracts were searched to identify relevant publications. 21 relevant publications were identified assessed for quality and subjected to analysis informed by thematic and grounded theory frameworks.

Several interacting themes were identified including the early experience of symptoms in relation to disease prototypes, minimising the impact of symptoms, speaking to others, gathering information and seeking alternative treatments, and issues related to accessing health services and attitudes towards healthcare professionals. Many people suggested that they had little knowledge of RA before diagnosis, believing RA to be a mild condition that affected older people. These misperceptions made correct symptom interpretation unlikely. Normalising and ignoring symptoms led people to delay in help-seeking. However, when symptoms impacted on daily activities help was usually sought. Individual interpretations of symptoms are both drivers of and barriers to help seeking. Targeted public health interventions are required to inform symptom interpretation and reduce delays.

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