Depression and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) often come together as a vicious cycle that can damage both mental and emotional aspects of a patients’ life. Can it cause physical damage as well?
A new study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, led by Alan Rathbun, Ph.D., and colleagues suggests depression can slow the healing and recovery of patients suffering with RA. The researchers noted patients without signs of depression had a better overall rate of improvement with their RA. They therefore concluded that the symptoms linked to depression can influence the activity of the RA disease. Furthermore, patients displaying the disease for shorter periods of time had much slower decreases in disease activity than those suffering with the disease for longer periods.
Alan Rathbun commented in a press release: “Collectively, these data indicated that a prior history of depressive symptoms could affect how patients interpret and perceive their condition, or alternatively, that depression has an impact on the experience of musculoskeletal pain.”
How Can Depression Affect The Bodies Of RA Patients?
Several physical symptoms can often emerge from emotional or mental strain. At times, they can mimic or overlap the real pain that RA patients experience.
Mercedes Turino, a certified holistic nutrition/health coach from Marquette, Michigan explained: “Your body doesn’t know the difference between physical, chemical, or emotional stress. Emotional stress or depression can have just as big of an impact on interfering with your body’s natural healing abilities as other, more obvious forms of stress. Depression can create physical inflammation that can make all sorts of symptoms worse, including arthritis.”
A professor at the George Washington University Medical Center, Dr. David Borenstein, explained how the depression cycle can be triggered: “Diagnosis can result in depression as part of the realization of the potential difficulties of a chronic disease. The depression itself can be disabling even if the changes of rheumatoid arthritis are mild.”
However, according to Borenstein, there is still hope: “The expectation, with current therapies available, is that individuals with RA will not experience significant disability from their illness with early, effective treatment. With effective treatment, individuals can regain control of their lives that helps break the hold of depression.”
Dr. David Borenstein thinks that the best thing for RA patients to do is to work with their doctors so they can treat depression early and, consequently, prevent disabilities caused by RA and so life quality, in general, can be improved.