Which triggers could support timely identification of primary antibody deficiency? A qualitative study using the patient perspective

L. M. A. Janssen, K. van den Akker, M. A. Boussihmad, E. de Vries*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Patients with predominantly (primary) antibody deficiencies (PADs) commonly develop recurrent respiratory infections which can lead to bronchiectasis, long-term morbidity and increased mortality. Recognizing symptoms and making a diagnosis is vital to enable timely treatment. Studies on disease presentation have mainly been conducted using medical files rather than direct contact with PAD patients. Our study aims to analyze how patients appraised their symptoms and which factors were involved in a decision to seek medical care.

14 PAD-patients (11 women; median 44, range 16-68 years) were analyzed using semi-structured interviews until saturation of key emergent themes was achieved.

Being always ill featured in all participant stories. Often from childhood onwards periods of illness were felt to be too numerous, too bad, too long-lasting, or antibiotics were always needed to get better. Recurrent or persistent respiratory infections were the main triggers for patients to seek care. All participants developed an extreme fatigue, described as a feeling of physical and mental exhaustion and thus an extreme burden on daily life that was not solved by taking rest. Despite this, participants tended to normalize their symptoms and carry on with usual activities. Non-immunologists, as well as patients, misattributed the presenting signs and symptoms to common, self-limiting illnesses or other ‘innocent’ explanations. Participants in a way understood the long diagnostic delay. They know that the disease is rare and that doctors have to cover a broad medical area. But they were more critical about the way the doctors communicate with them. They feel that doctors often don’t listen very well to their patients. The participants’ symptoms as well as the interpretation of these symptoms by their social environment and doctors had a major emotional impact on the participants and a negative influence on their future perspectives.

To timely identify PAD, ‘pattern recognition’ should not only focus on the medical ‘red flags’, but also on less differentiating symptoms, such as ‘being always ill’ and ‘worn out’ and the way patients cope with these problems. And, most important, making time to really listen to the patient remains the key.
Original languageEnglish
Article number289
Number of pages18
JournalOrphanet Journal of Rare Diseases
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Diagnostic journey
  • Patient perspectives
  • Primary antibody deficiency
  • Qualitative research
  • Timely diagnosis
  • Trigger


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