Objective: To conduct an epidemiological study of rheumatoid arthritis patients seen by office-based rheumatologists in France (first semester of 1996).
Methods: Cross-sectional study of 1629 rheumatoid arthritis patients conducted by 373 office-based rheumatologists who volunteered for the study (one visit per patient). Each rheumatologist was to complete a 200-variable questionnaire for the first four rheumatoid arthritis patients who came to their office.
Results: Women contributed 81% of the sample (mean age, 57 years); 19% of patients were seen in the Paris area, 20% in the North East, 20% in the North West, 22% in the South East and 19% in the South West. Twenty-nine per cent of patients had a paid job and 21.1% (all women) were homemakers. Among the patients with a paid job, 44% were on sick leave, with the reason for the sick leave being the rheumatoid arthritis in 36% of cases. Nineteen per cent of patients had stopped working permanently because of their rheumatoid arthritis, after a mean disease duration of six years. Mean disease duration in the overall sample was eight years. The diagnosis was established within six months of symptom onset in 75% of cases. A family history of rheumatoid arthritis was found in 11% of patients and a family history of other autoimmune diseases in 2%. The disease was precipitated by a stressful life event in 17% of cases. Follow-up was being provided only by the study rheumatologist in 59% of cases and also by a general practitioner in 39%. The disease was quiescent in 9% of cases, minimally active in 32%, moderately active in 46% and severely active in 13%. Eighty-four per cent of patients were on one (78%) or more (6%) second-line drugs including methotrexate (45%), an antimalarial (17%), intramuscular gold (14%), tiopronin (9%), D-penicillamine (6%) and sulfasalazine (12%). Fifty-two per cent of patients were on steroid therapy (mean dose, 7.5 +/- 5.7 mg/d). Other drugs included nonsteroidal antiinflammatory agents (61%), analgesics (61%), gastroduodenal protective agents (45%) and anxiety-relieving agents (10%). Twenty-four per cent of patients had had one or more surgical procedures (mean, 3/patient) for their joint disease.
Conclusion: This nation-wide epidemiological survey conducted in France provides a database on the socioeconomic and demographic characteristics of rheumatoid arthritis patients followed in private practice.