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Abstract

Objective

To determine whether perceptions of clinical manifestations (fatigue, pain, and physical limitation) of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) differ between spouses and their partners with RA, and to determine whether the differences are associated with the perception of beneficial and problematic spousal social support.

Methods

English-speaking adults with RA of ≥6 months' duration and their spouses (n = 222 couples) completed standardized questionnaires for fatigue, pain, physical limitation, beneficial spousal support, and problematic spousal support. Spouses completed questionnaires based on their perception of their partner with RA. Agreement scores for fatigue, pain, and physical limitation were calculated by subtracting spouse scores from the scores of the partner with RA. Agreement levels were defined a priori: agreement (within ± one-half of a minimum clinically important difference [MCID] unit), overestimator (< one-half an MCID), and underestimator (> one-half an MCID). Separate hierarchical linear regression models were used to measure the association between beneficial support and problematic support after adjusting for RA duration, physical health, sex, educational level, relationship duration, and satisfaction.

Results

Response rate for couples was 82%. Relative to participants with RA, spouses overestimated fatigue (26%), pain (29%), and physical limitation (39%), and underestimated fatigue (11%), pain (17%), and physical limitation (34%). After statistically controlling for demographic, disease, and psychosocial variables, participants with RA whose spouses underestimated fatigue received more problematic support (R2 = 3.7%, P = 0.002), as did those whose spouses underestimated or overestimated physical limitation (R2 = 3.4%, P = 0.017).

Conclusion

Persons with RA perceived more problematic spousal support when their spouse underestimated fatigue, or underestimated or overestimated physical limitation levels.