Systemic lupus erythematosus prevalence in the U.K.: methodological issues when using the General Practice Research Database to estimate frequency of chronic relapsing-remitting disease†

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to calculate the prevalence of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) between 1992 and 1998 using the General Practice Research Database (GPRD)

Methods

We identified all individuals who had contributed at least 3 years of data to the GPRD and who had a diagnosis of SLE with supporting evidence of their diagnosis. We calculated the annual age- and sex-specific prevalence of SLE. Additionally, we stratified the prevalence by years of data contributed to the GRPD.

Results

In males the point estimate of the prevalence of SLE increased from 7.5/100 000 (CI95 6.3, 8.8) to 10.1/100 000 (CI95 7.8, 12.2) but this rise was not statistically significant. However, prevalence appeared to increase significantly amongst females from 42.6/100 000 (CI95 39.6, 45.6) in 1992 to 70.8/100 000 (CI95 65.1, 76.6) in 1998. This increase was mainly amongst women aged 50–79 and in those contributing more than 5 years of data and could not be explained by increasing incidence of SLE or decreasing mortality during the study period.

Conclusions

We found an increasing prevalence of SLE that could not be explained by increasing incidence or decreasing mortality. This is almost certainly an artefact caused by the increased likelihood of detecting or confirming cases of chronic relapsing-remitting diseases with increasing time contributed to the GPRD. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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