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The Rheumatoid Arthritis and Psychiatric Disorder Connection

People who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder in their lifetimes compared to people who have not been diagnosed with RA.

Having an autoimmune disorder may take a toll on the brain as well as the body. A study published in July 2018 in Arthritis Care & Research found that people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder in their lifetimes than those who have not been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease. Rates of schizophrenia were similar among the two groups, according to the findings.

Rates of Depression, Anxiety, and Bipolar Disorder Are Higher in People with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Researchers in Manitoba, Canada, studied more than 60,000 people with RA and healthy individuals. The incidence of depression was 45 percent higher in the RA group, anxiety was 25 percent higher, and bipolar disorder was 20 percent more common. While incidence rates for psychiatric disorders declined over a person’s life regardless of their physical health, episodes of depression and anxiety were more frequent and lengthy in the RA group. “We need to learn more about how mood disorders like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder are connected,” says study author Carol Hitchon, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

3 Ways Rheumatoid Arthritis Contributes to Mental Health Conditions, and How to Deal With the Risks

Here’s what experts understand about the connection between rheumatoid arthritis and mood disorders, and what you can do to sidestep or minimize symptoms.

1. Living With a Chronic Disease Like RA Causes Chronic Stress

Fighting the pain and expense of a long-term health problem can be a significant burden to carry. In fact, the rate of depression among people living with rheumatoid arthritis is estimated to be anywhere from 13 to 42 percent, according to some research. “Certainly pain with RA is one factor, but we know from studies — including ours — that there is more depression and anxiety in people with RA even before the RA is diagnosed,” says Dr. Hitchon. “This suggests that other factors may link these conditions, including genetics, environmental exposures, and health habits.”

2. Inflammation Is a Common Thread in RA and in Mood Disorders

Inflammation is a popular topic in a variety of different disease discussions these days. Scientific researchers speculate that chronic inflammation, which is when your body’s immune system goes into overdrive and stays there, contributes to many diseases beyond rheumatoid arthritis, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke, and depression.

“There is evidence that depression is an inflammatory disease, and there is also evidence that people with high levels of certain inflammatory biomarkers in their system are more likely to develop depression. Some of those markers are the same ones that are elevated in rheumatoid arthritis,” says Patti Katz, PhD, a professor of medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, where she studies adults with chronic health conditions.

Read on: The Rheumatoid Arthritis and Psychiatric Disorder Connection

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