The combined prevalence of classified rare rheumatic diseases is almost double that of ankylosing spondylitis

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Background: Rare diseases (RDs) affect less than 5/10,000 people in Europe and fewer than 200,000 individuals in the United States. In rheumatology, RDs are heterogeneous and lack systemic classification. Clinical courses involve a variety of diverse symptoms, and patients may be misdiagnosed and not receive appropriate treatment. The objective of this study was to identify and classify some of the most important RDs in rheumatology. We also attempted to determine their combined prevalence to more precisely define this area of rheumatology and increase awareness of RDs in healthcare systems. We conducted a comprehensive literature search and analyzed each disease for the specified criteria, such as clinical symptoms, treatment regimens, prognoses, and point prevalences. If no epidemiological data were available, we estimated the prevalence as 1/1,000,000. The total point prevalence for all RDs in rheumatology was estimated as the sum of the individually determined prevalences. Results: A total of 76 syndromes and diseases were identified, including vasculitis/vasculopathy (n = 15), arthritis/arthropathy (n = 11), autoinflammatory syndromes (n = 11), myositis (n = 9), bone disorders (n = 11), connective tissue diseases (n = 8), overgrowth syndromes (n = 3), and others (n = 8). Out of the 76 diseases, 61 (80%) are classified as chronic, with a remitting-relapsing course in 27 cases (35%) upon adequate treatment. Another 34 (45%) diseases were predominantly progressive and difficult to control. Corticosteroids are a therapeutic option in 49 (64%) syndromes. Mortality is variable and could not be determined precisely. Epidemiological studies and prevalence data were available for 33 syndromes and diseases. For an additional eight diseases, only incidence data were accessible. The summed prevalence of all RDs was 28.8/10,000. Conclusions: RDs in rheumatology are frequently chronic, progressive, and present variable symptoms. Treatment options are often restricted to corticosteroids, presumably because of the scarcity of randomized controlled trials. The estimated combined prevalence is significant and almost double that of ankylosing spondylitis (18/10,000). Thus, healthcare systems should assign RDs similar importance as any other common disease in rheumatology.




Leyens, J., Bender, T. T. A., Mücke, M., Stieber, C., Kravchenko, D., Dernbach, C., & Seidel, M. F. (2021). The combined prevalence of classified rare rheumatic diseases is almost double that of ankylosing spondylitis. Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases, 16(1).

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