Objective: To evaluate the prevalence of self-reported joint pain and swelling in the peripheral joints of subjects from an Italian general population. To correlate the result with demographic data and physical activity.
Methods: A total of 4,456 subjects aged 16 years or more listed in four general practices were invited to participate in the study and to fill out the ARC questionnaire. The 3,294 responders were asked to report: (a) any past occurrence of joint swelling lasting more than 4 weeks and the distribution of the swollen joints on a mannequin; (b) any joint pain lasting more than 4 weeks; (c) current joint pain or swelling; (d) morning stiffness; (e) whether they had been previously told by a doctor they had arthritis; and (f) their physical activity according to a three-class scale.
Results: Joint pain was reported by 889 (27%) subjects and joint swelling was reported by 463 (14%) subjects. Women reported joint pain and swelling more frequently than men, except for the younger age classes. The prevalence of joint pain and swelling increased with age in both sexes until age 55-64, when a plateau was observed. Age was involved in the determination of joint pain and swelling. Physical activity was involved only marginally.
Conclusions: We found high levels of prevalence of pain and swelling in the peripheral joints in a general Italian population. Prevalence was higher in Italian subjects than in subjects from China and Pakistan studied using the same questionnaire. These differences may reflect cultural and social diversity in the perception of disease, as well as true differences in the prevalence of rheumatic symptoms across the world.