Reasons for medical help-seeking behaviour of patients with recent-onset arthralgia

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Patient delay in seeking medical help may cause suboptimal use of the therapeutic window in rheumatoid arthritis. We aimed to assess the motivations and the urgency with which patients with arthralgia seek medical help.


612 patients with arthralgia—visiting two Dutch Early Arthritis Recognition Clinics—were studied. Patients filled out a questionnaire with questions on their symptoms and their reasons for seeking medical help. Comparisons were made for patients with short or prolonged patient delay, patients with and without arthritis, age and gender.


The median symptom duration was 4 weeks. A prolonged delay in seeking help was associated with a gradual onset of symptoms (78%) and the perception that symptoms would not be serious or would go away (16% and 48%, respectively). Arthralgia patients who promptly sought medical help more often had an acute onset of symptoms and more frequently reported impairments at work or in daily functioning than patients who postponed seeking help (all p<0.005). Patients with and without arthritis generally had similar reasons for seeking help. The proportion of patients who had a prolonged patient delay was comparable between male and female subjects and between age categories. Particularly younger patients postponed seeking help because they thought their symptoms would disappear spontaneously.


This large-scale study observed several reasons and symptom characteristics influencing the help-seeking behaviour of persons with arthralgia. These data can be helpful to define strategies aiming at early identification of arthritis.

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