An Illness by Any Other Name: The Effect of Renaming Gout on Illness and Treatment Perceptions

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Abstract

Objective: Inaccurate lay views of an illness can lead to the adoption of unhelpful coping strategies and treatments. Gout is an example of an illness where the popular view of the condition conflicts with a modern understanding of the illness by overemphasizing the role of diet and alcohol in the development and management of the disease. In this study we investigated the effect of renaming gout as urate crystal arthritis on the perceptions of the illness. Method: One-hundred and 89 supermarket shoppers participated in a study examining the perceptions of different types of arthritis. Participants completed a questionnaire that either used the term “urate crystal arthritis” (UCA) or “gout” for the label and a description of the disease. Participants rated likely causal factors, illness perceptions and the usefulness of various management strategies. Results: Gout was perceived as being more likely caused by the patient’s own behavior through poor diet and overconsumption of alcohol, while UCA was attributed to aging. The UCA-labeled illness was also viewed as a more chronic and serious condition, while the gout-labeled illness was seen as being more socially embarrassing and more under the patient’s personal control. Management for the gout-labeled illness centered on dietary interventions, while the UCA-labeled illness was perceived as requiring long-term medication. Conclusion: Changing an illness label can have a significant effect on causal beliefs, illness perceptions, and management strategies. Changing illness labels may be useful where the lay perceptions of an illness are not aligned with a current understanding of the condition.

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