One Patient’s Experience with Rheumatoid Arthritis Highlights Research Connecting RA and Mood Disorders
What’s Going On
Healthcare columnist Eileen Davidson suffered poor mental health for decades. Then, in her late twenties, she received a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis for her chronic pain.
The diagnosis of a “hidden disease” at such a relatively young age threw Eileen into a state of grief, compounded by people’s disbelief of her condition. (“Others kept saying I was too young for arthritis, that I didn’t ‘look’ sick, or that arthritis wasn’t anything more than a little joint pain.”)
When her rheumatologist realized she suffered from depression post-diagnosis, she was referred to a psychiatrist and a clinical social worker. Through treatment, she was better able to manage all of her conditions.
It helped that much of her treatment for arthritis overlapped with recommendations from her mental health providers, including eating a low-inflammatory diet and making a habit of regularly taking medications.
Why This Matters
While this patient’s anecdotal experience is compelling on its own account — and we’re so glad she got the help she needed for both her physical and her mental health! — you may be more interested to learn how her story is really a case study, backed up by broader research.
A 2010 study found that patients suffering from arthritis — especially younger patients under 45 — were more than 50% more likely to develop mood disorders after their diagnosis.
Further study reviews also suggest that the same inflammation that impacts rheumatoid arthritis can also contribute to clinical depressive disorder.
On a patient experience level, then, all providers working with patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis should be on the lookout for signs of worsening mental health. And, they should be prepared to recommend them to the appropriate therapists when requested or needed.
Since the relationship between rheumatoid arthritis and mood disorders seem to be one-directional — an arthritis diagnosis leads to the greater risk of a mood disorder, rather than the other way around — have a referral on standby if you suspect a patient has arthritis.