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It’s not the symptoms, it’s the context.

More on the Art of Doctoring in my conversation with the one and only Baktash Ahadi

Objective. People with RA have episodes of worsening disease activity (flares) that prompt them to seek clinical review or medication change. This study explored patients’ perspectives of flare that prompts them to seek medication review.

Methods. Fourteen focus groups across five countries comprised 67 RA patients. Transcripts were analysed by several researchers and a patient, using inductive thematic analysis.

Results. Patients use flare for five different scenarios, including flare that prompts medical help-seeking, where six themes were identified. In ‘Symptoms and early warnings’, pain is intense (wanting to die), constant and persistent and considered a key feature. Systemic features predominate, including fatigue, feeling generally ill (flu-like), physical and cognitive shut-down and social withdrawal. Warning signs (prodrome) comprise fatigue and flu-like symptoms. ‘Self-management of intensifying symptoms’ includes pacing, heat/cold, rest and increasing medication, often without medical advice. Patients ‘Define this as uncontrollable flare’ when clusters of unprovoked, persistent symptoms halt their ability to run daily life, until prompted into ‘Seeking help when symptoms can’t be contained’. Underpinning themes are ‘Individual context’ (e.g. different symptom clusters) and ‘Uncertainty’ (e.g. when to seek help). Patients report that the current patient global visual analogue scale (VAS) does not capture flare.

Conclusion. Patients use flare for multiple events and seek help for complex clusterings of intense, unprovoked symptoms that defy self-management, not necessarily captured in joint counts or global VAS. Flare terminology and definition have implications for clinical practice and trials, therefore further research should establish a professional/patient consensus.

Hewlett et al

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Could the greatest hope for primary care be in a laboratory?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation and damage of the joints affecting about 0.5% of the general population. Early treatment in RA is important as it can prevent disease progression and irreversible damage of the joints. Despite the high diagnostic value of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA) and rheumatoid factor (RF), there is a strong demand for novel serological biomarkers to further improve the diagnosis of this abundant disease. During the last decades, several autoantigens have been described in RA including Ra33 (hnRNP A2), fibrinogenfibronectinalpha-enolasetype II collagenimmunoglobulin binding protein (BiP), annexins and viral citrullinated peptide (VCP) derived from Epstein Barr Virus-encoded protein (EBNA-2). More recent discoveries include antibodies to carbamylated antigens (anti-CarP), to peptidyl arginine deiminase type 4 (PAD4), to BRAF (v raf murine sarcoma viral oncogene homologue B1) and to 14 autoantigens identified by phage display technology. This review provides a current overview of novel biomarkers for RA and discusses their future potential to improve the diagnosis of the disease.

Trouw and Mahler

See also my podcast with Sam Mazin

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Making a diagnosis as a family doctor

The fact that it is often difficult or perhaps impossible to correlate the pathology and symptoms of coronary artery disease has led to a great deal of discussion and numerous explanations have been proposed.

Fred M Smith

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