The process of acceptance among rheumatoid arthritis patients in Switzerland: A qualitative study

Zlatina Kostova, Maria Caiata-Zufferey, Peter J. Schulz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, painful disease with many injurious psychological effects. Acceptance is an important component of pain management and is associated with improved quality of life, and lower levels of pain and depression. While studies have begun to identify the stages of acceptance, little is known about factors influencing the ease and speed with which patients pass through these stages. Objective: To explore the main stages through which RA patients pass and the strategies they adopt to learn to live with the pain, and to identify factors shaping patients' capacities to achieve acceptance. Methods: A qualitative study involving 20 semistructured interviews with RA patients in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland was conducted. Analysis of the data followed the precepts of grounded theory. Results: Although the present study revealed that acceptance is not a smooth or linear process, five main stages in patients' struggles to accommodate the newly imposed limitations were, nonetheless, identified: naming the illness; realizing the illness; resisting the illness; 'hitting the bottom'; and integrating the illness. Diagnosis proved to be an especially tortuous stage in the case of RA, and the effects of delayed diagnosis continued to be felt during the subsequent stages. Patients' understanding of the notion of acceptance and the strategies that they used to achieve it were also explored. Conclusions: Diagnosis of RA is notoriously difficult. Beyond the clinical difficulties, structural reasons for late diagnosis (symptoms being neglected by patients and medical professionals) were identifed. Delayed diagnosis hindered the acceptance process throughout, and led to more resistant behaviour and to a struggle to achieve the optimal formula for acceptance - accepting the losses of prepain life while still pursuing personal goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)61-68
Number of pages8
JournalPain Research and Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2014


  • Acceptance process
  • Diagnosis
  • Integration strategies
  • Patients' view of acceptance
  • Rheumatoid arthritis


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