Introduction to special section: Epidemiology of the rheumatic diseases


In this issue of Arthritis Care & Research, we present the sixth in a series of themed issues. These themed issues, which appear once or twice a year, are designed to highlight state-of-the-art information in a field of relevance to rheumatology. The topic for this themed issue is the epidemiology of the rheumatic diseases. A solicitation for manuscripts for the seventh theme, concerning drug safety in the rheumatic diseases, has already been published in the Journal. The manuscripts submitted for the themed issues navigate the usual peer-review process of Arthritis Care & Research, and therefore meet the same rigorous standards as articles in this or any other issue.

The discipline of epidemiology has been invigorated by a revolution in the scope of inquiry, from molecular genetics at one end of the spectrum to the effect of community at the other (the latter is sometimes referred to as area-based analysis). Some analysts incorporate both, as well as traditional individual characteristics, including sociodemographics and measures of disease severity.

Investigators in the rheumatic diseases reflect this revolution. We received 100 manuscripts in response to the call for papers, of which 24 have been accepted for publication in this issue. Of note, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus are represented by 3 articles and osteoarthritis by 2, but the diseases covered include less common ones, such as Wegener's granulomatosis, giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica, systemic sclerosis, and vasculitis, as well as regional pain disorders and syndromes such as eosiniphilia-myalgia and amyloidosis. The 24 articles draw upon a wide range of methodologies, including case–control studies, registries, population-based surveys, meta-analysis, and more traditional review articles. Outcomes assessed include incident and prevalent cases, progression from onset to disability, and mortality. The geographic reach of the articles ranges across individual clinical sites, regions within nations, whole nations—including some that are not commonly subject to analysis such as Iran—and the world.

Almost every issue of Arthritis Care & Research includes manuscripts using epidemiologic methods. However, we hope that by publishing an entire issue devoted to the epidemiology of the rheumatic diseases, the journal can highlight the strength of the community of rheumatology researchers in this area of inquiry and can also catalyze further cross-fertilization in the scope of research from molecules to communities and every level in between.