Disease and management beliefs of elderly patients with rheumatoid arthritis and comorbidity: a qualitative study

Marloes van Onna*, Betul Ozturk, Mirian Starmans, Ralph Peeters, Annelies Boonen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


To explore in elderly patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and comorbidity (1) in which order and why patients prioritize their morbidities with regard to functioning and health, (2) their beliefs about common (age-related) musculoskeletal complaints, and (3) experiences about the influence of comorbidity on medication treatment of RA. Patients between 50 and 85 years with RA and >= 1 comorbidity or lifestyle risk factor were invited for a semi-structured interview. Two readers coded the transcripts of the interviews, by using NVivo11 software. Fifteen patients (14 women; mean age 67 years (range 51-83 years); mean disease duration 14 years (range 1-39 years)) were interviewed. Only 3 (20%) out of 15 patients prioritized RA over their comorbidity; these patients often experienced severe functional limitations. The level of current or (perceived) future disability, risk of dependency, and the perceived lethality of a condition were considered by participants when prioritizing morbidities. Most participants had misconceptions about common age-related musculoskeletal complaints. Consequently, these participants attributed all joint complaints or even all physical complaints to RA, disregarding degenerative joint disease and physiological aging as alternative diagnoses. Half of the participants ever had to change RA medication because of comorbidity. Most of these patients had prioritized the comorbidity, sometimes even over treatment of RA disease activity. Most elderly RA patients with comorbidity prioritize the importance and treatment of comorbidity over RA. Better understanding of patients' beliefs on RA and comorbidity is essential when managing chronic conditions in elderly patients.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2367-2372
Number of pages6
JournalClinical Rheumatology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


  • Comorbidity
  • Elderly patients
  • Qualitative research
  • Rheumatoid arthritis


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