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  1. M. Russell1,
  2. F. Coath2,
  3. M. Yates1,
  4. K. Bechman1,
  5. S. Norton1,
  6. J. Galloway1,
  7. J. Ledingham3,
  8. R. Sengupta4,
  9. K. Gaffney2
  1. 1King’s College London, Centre for Rheumatic Diseases, London, United Kingdom
  2. 2Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, Rheumatology Department, Norwich, United Kingdom
  3. 3Portsmouth Hospitals University NHS Trust, Rheumatology Department, Portsmouth, United Kingdom
  4. 4Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, Department of Rheumatology, Bath, United Kingdom


Background: Diagnostic delay is a significant problem in axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), and there is a growing body of evidence showing that delayed axSpA diagnosis is associated with worse clinical, humanistic and economic outcomes.1 International guidelines have been published to inform referral pathways and improve standards of care for patients with axSpA.2,3

Objectives: To describe the sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of newly-referred patients with axSpA in England and Wales in the National Early Inflammatory Arthritis Audit (NEIAA), with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and mechanical back pain (MBP) as comparators.

Methods: The NEIAA captures data on all new patients over the age of 16 referred with suspected inflammatory arthritis to rheumatology departments in England and Wales.4 We describe baseline sociodemographic and clinical characteristics of axSpA patients (n=784) recruited to the NEIAA between May 2018 and March 2020, compared with RA (n=9,270) and MBP (n=370) during the same period.

Results: Symptom duration prior to initial rheumatology assessment was significantly longer in axSpA than RA patients (p<0.001), and non-significantly longer in axSpA than MBP patients (p=0.062): 79.7% of axSpA patients had symptom durations of >6 months, compared to 33.7% of RA patients and 76.0% of MBP patients; 32.6% of axSpA patients had symptom durations of >5 years, compared to 3.5% of RA patients and 24.6% of MBP patients (Figure 1A). Following referral, median time to initial rheumatology assessment was longer for axSpA than RA patients (36 vs. 24 days; p<0.001), and similar to MBP patients (39 days; p=0.30). The proportion of axSpA patients assessed within 3 weeks of referral increased from 26.7% in May 2018 to 34.7% in March 2020; compared to an increase from 38.2% to 54.5% for RA patients (Figure 1B). A large majority of axSpA referrals originated from primary care (72.4%) or musculoskeletal triage services (14.1%), with relatively few referrals from gastroenterology (1.9%), ophthalmology (1.4%) or dermatology (0.4%).

Of the subset of patients with peripheral arthritis requiring EIA pathway follow-up, fewer axSpA than RA patients had disease education provided (77.5% vs. 97.8%; p<0.001), and RA patients reported a better understanding of their condition (p<0.001). HAQ-DI scores were lower at baseline in axSpA EIA patients than RA EIA patients (0.8 vs 1.1, respectively; p=0.004), whereas baseline Musculoskeletal Health Questionnaire (MSK-HQ) scores were similar (25 vs. 24, respectively; p=0.49). The burden of disease was substantial across the 14 domains comprising MSK-HQ in both axSpA and RA (Figure 1C).

Conclusion: We have shown that diagnostic delay remains a major challenge in axSpA, despite improved disease understanding and updated referral guidelines. Patient education is an unmet need in axSpA, highlighting the need for specialist clinics. MSK-HQ scores demonstrated that the functional impact of axSpA is no less than for RA, whereas HAQ-DI may underrepresent disability in axSpA.

References: [1]Yi E, Ahuja A, Rajput T, George AT, Park Y. Clinical, economic, and humanistic burden associated with delayed diagnosis of axial spondyloarthritis: a systematic review. Rheumatol Ther. 2020;7:65-87.

[2]NICE. Spondyloarthritis in over 16s: diagnosis and management. 2017.

[3]van der Heijde D, Ramiro S, Landewe R, et al. 2016 update of the ASAS-EULAR management recommendations for axial spondyloarthritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2017;76(6):978-91.

[4]British Society for Rheumatology. National Early Inflammatory Arthritis Audit (NEIAA) Second Annual Report. 2021.

Acknowledgements: The National Early Inflammatory Arthritis Audit is commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership, funded by NHS England and Improvement, and the Welsh Government, and carried out by the British Society for Rheumatology, King’s College London and Net Solving.

Disclosure of Interests: Mark Russell Grant/research support from: UCB, Pfizer, Fiona Coath: None declared, Mark Yates Grant/research support from: UCB, Abbvie, Katie Bechman: None declared, Sam Norton: None declared, James Galloway Grant/research support from: Abbvie, Celgene, Chugai, Gilead, Janssen, Lilly, Pfizer, Roche, UCB, Jo Ledingham: None declared, Raj Sengupta Grant/research support from: AbbVie, Biogen, Celgene, Lilly, MSD, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, UCB, Karl Gaffney Grant/research support from: AbbVie, Biogen, Cellgene, Celltrion, Janssen, Lilly, Novartis, Pfizer, Roche, UCB.

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