• Illness perceptions;
  • coping;
  • health-related quality of life;
  • scleroderma;
  • systemic sclerosis



The aim of the present study was to evaluate the association between illness perceptions and the ability to cope with physical and mental health problems in a large cohort of systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients.


This was a cross-sectional study in 217 systemic sclerosis patients from the Belgian Systemic Sclerosis Cohort. Illness perception and coping were measured by the Revised Illness Perception Questionnaire and a coping questionnaire – the Coping Orientation of Problem Experience inventory (COPE). Physical and mental health-related quality of life was measured by the 36-item short-form health survey (SF-36), as were disease activity and several severity parameters. The relationship between illness perceptions and the ability to cope with physical/mental health problems was examined using multiple linear regression analysis.


According to LeRoy's classification, 49 patients had limited SSc (lSSc), 129 had limited cutaneous SSc (lcSSc) and 39 had diffuse cutaneous SSc (dcSSc). Median disease duration was five years and the modified Rodnan skin score was 4. Good physical health was significantly associated with the lcSSc subtype and low disease activity (p < 0.01 and p < 0.05, respectively). The perception of ‘serious consequences’ and strong ‘illness identity’ correlated with poor physical health (p < 0.001). Good mental health was associated with low illness identity scores and low ‘emotional response’ scores (p < 0.001). Coping variables were less significantly correlated with physical and mental health compared with the illness perception items.


Illness representations contribute more than classical disease characteristics to physical and mental health. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.