Background: Patients do not respond to treatment in a predictable manner. Individual preconceptions determine help seeking, compliance and treatment outcome, yet clinicians rarely explore these issues. The illness perception approach sees the patient as an active participant in the healthcare process.
Aims: The aim of this study was to investigate the illness perceptions of people with dysphonia. The subsidiary aims were to correlate the Illness Perception Questionnaire with any psychological distress identified and a self-report measure of dysphonia, and to consider any potential implications for patient management.
Design: Prospective, cross-sectional observation.
Setting: Primary and secondary care, two general and four community hospitals.
Participants: Fifty adult patients with dysphonia due to benign disease completed three self-administered questionnaires, which investigated their illness perceptions, psychological distress and perceptions of the impact of the presenting ‘illness’.
Measures: The dysphonia was categorised as being due to functional (n=40) or organic (n=10) causes. All the voices were rated by an expert listener according to the GRBAS (grade, roughness, breathiness, aesthenia, strain) scale. Participants completed the Illness Perception Questionnaire, the Vocal Performance Questionnaire and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression scale.
Results: Patients showed a wide variation in perception of causation. They had no strong perceptions about the causes, consequences or duration of the presenting dysphonia. Functional dysphonics reported greater consequences, lower perceived control and increased anxiety when compared to patients with organic dysphonia. In terms of cure/control, all patients expected treatment to be helpful but this expectancy reduced as time increased. Anxiety was more associated with functional dysphonia, however, only 17 per cent of the subjects in this group showed clinically significant levels of signs of psychological distress.
Conclusions: Lay illness representations often diverge from the clinician's understanding of the presenting problem and strongly influence treatment behaviour. Early exploration of illness perceptions may enhance health behaviour and maximise the impact of intervention.