What is the link between rheumatoid disease and depression?

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Living with rheumatoid disease (aka rheumatoid arthritis) can be tough.

It is not surprising that people with rheumatoid disease are at least twice as likely to suffer from depression than healthy people.

Some estimates even say that up to 20% of rheumatoid patients will suffer from depression.

According to the American Psychological Association, depression is characterized “by sadness, a lack of interest in daily activities, weight loss or gain, sleeplessness or excessive sleeping, lack of energy, inability to concentrate, feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.”

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, help is available. We have listed some useful phone numbers and groups at the end of this article.

But how are the two conditions linked?

The relationship between depression and rheumatoid disease is complex.

Rheumatoid patients experience swollen joints due to increased inflammation in the body. The inflammation is caused by the excess production of cytokines. There is evidence that inflammation can be linked with depression.  

 There is a well-documented event called cytokine-induced depression, where cytokines are increased, and depression occurs,” says Patricia Katz, PhD, professor of medicine at University of California San Francisco.  

Experiencing pain on a daily basis is very stressful and can also be very isolating. Releasing stress hormones over a long period of time can affect your mood and thinking, and, in some people, this can trigger depression. Depression, in turn, can lower your pain threshold creating a vicious circle effect.

Add in the difficulty of exercising with rheumatoid disease, plus the impacts that rheumatoid can have on personal relationships, career, and social life, and it is understandable that so many rheumatoid patients experience mental health challenges.

The good news is that rheumatologists are now better at asking patients about their mental health and connecting them with treatment and support.

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, please talk with your rheumatologist.

You can also find help and support via the resources listed below.


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