OBJECTIVE: The reproductive choices of women affected by rheumatic diseases (RD) can be influenced by several factors, including the quality of physician-patient communication. We conducted a survey on reproductive issues aiming at exploring the unmet needs of women with RD during childbearing age.
METHODS: We administered 65 multiple-choice and 12 open-answer questions about pregnancy counselling, contraception, use of drugs during pregnancy and other women reproductive issues to 477 consecutive women with RD aged 18-55 years followed-up in 24 rheumatology centres in Italy. Analysis was restricted to 398 patients who received their diagnosis of RD before the age of 45. According to the RD diagnosis, patients were subdivided into 2 groups: connective tissue diseases (n = 249) and chronic arthritis (n = 149).
RESULTS: At the time of interview, women in both groups had a mean age of 40 years. Nearly one third of patients in each group declared not to have received any counselling about either pregnancy desire nor contraception. A smaller family size than desired was reported by nearly 37% of patients, because of concerns related to maternal disease in one fourth of the cases. A "Disease Knowledge Index" (DKI) was created to investigate the degree of patients' information about the implications of their RD on reproductive issues. Having received counselling was associated with higher DKI values and with a positive impact on family planning.
CONCLUSION: Italian women of childbearing age affected by RD reported several unmet needs in their knowledge about reproductive issues. Strategies are needed to implement and facilitate physician-patient communication.