Battling rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a challenge. Mental health problems, including depression, can be a serious part of that battle.
What does anxiety feel like? According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety is distinguished by feelings and physical changes including:
- increased blood pressure
By contrast, depression is recognized by mental health professionals by symptoms that include:
- feelings of sadness
- a lack of interest in daily activities
- weight loss or gain
- insomnia or excessive sleeping
- lack of energy
- inability to concentrate
- feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt
- recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.
Studies show depression is often greater in people who have arthritis and other conditions that come with chronic pain. Studies also show that anxiety and depression can lower the pain threshold in individuals.
The Pain-Mental Health Cycle
#RAWarriors and others who experience chronic pain understand the cycle—there is pain and then feelings of worry or sadness. Dealing with this pain is exhausting unnerving. The anxiety or depression can also interfere with daily activities just as much as the chronic pain.
Chronic stress is known to change your levels of brain and nervous system chemicals. These stress hormones and neurochemicals—like cortisol, serotonin, and norepinephrine—affect the mood, thinking, and behavior. When there is a constant disruption of these chemicals, depression can set in.
Some medical researchers actually think that the inflammation itself plays a role in depression and anxiety. A 2016 study reviewed levels of C-reactive protein—which is a marker of inflammation—in over 10,000. People with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia had CRP levels that were 31% higher than those with no depressive symptoms.
Which Came First? — And Does It Matter?
Based on studies such as the one conducted in 2016, there is a theory that people who had mental health conditions have a greater risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. There needs to be much more research and observation that needs to take place on this connection before this hypothesis is deemed somewhat true. What matters though is addressing the issue at hand for #RAWarriors.
What is an undeniable truth in the medical community is that people who have rheumatoid arthritis and depression at the same time have more successful treatment outcomes when both conditions are addressed. Learn more about seeking support from mental health professionals.
Left untreated, depression in people with rheumatoid arthritis may result in:
- Increased pain
- Higher risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks
- Loss of productivity at work
- Greater risk of economic hardship
- Relationship issues
- Sexual dysfunction
There are medications out there that can treat both conditions. It’s important for #RAWarriors to not give up hope and try to take some control into their own hands. With healthy regular habits, #RAWarriors can develop healthy mind frames that might be beneficial for future flares that can bring anxiety/depression.
Some habits to consider are:
- Regular exercise
- Stress management techniques
- Friends and support groups who understand the challenges of both conditions
Don’t Let Depression Go Untreated
Talk to a medical provider and/or your RA treatment team if there are ever any feelings of anxiety or depression. With medication, support and a personalized plan of action, depression and rheumatoid arthritis can be more adequately managed.