Objective: The aim of this study was to examine the quality of life (QoL) profiles of patients with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and to relate these to disease and impairment variables as indicated, respectively, by erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and by tender joint count (Ritchie Articular Index), fatigue, and pain.
Methods: The present study uses part of the European Research on Incapacitating Disease and Social Support data of 573 patients with recently diagnosed RA (268 from the Netherlands, 216 from Norway, and 89 from France). A series of clinical and psychosocial data were collected on 4 (the Netherlands, France) and 3 (Norway) occasions, with 1-year intervals separating the waves of data collection.
Results: Of the disease activity (ESR) and impairment variables (tender joint count, fatigue, pain), fatigue was identified as the consequence of disease that differentiated best on a series of QoL aspects such as disability, psychological well-being, social support, and "overall evaluation of health." Next came pain and tender joint count, and ESR showed by far the least differentiating ability. A principal-component analysis on the QoL measures used in this study yielded one general factor measuring "overall QoL." After rotation, two separate factors were encountered, one referring to the physical domain and the other to the psychological and social domains of QoL. Again, the QoL of RA patients experiencing much fatigue appeared to decline the most.
Conclusions: Because of the highly variable nature of RA, impairments, activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental ADL restrictions, and psychosocial distress can vary erratically. In particular, "fatigue" as measured over a period of 2 to 3 years distinguished best among RA patients as shown by their QoL profiles. Although the physical domain was most affected, the significant effect of RA on the psychosocial domain should not be underestimated.