Is There a Connection Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression?

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Several major studies have found a link between rheumatoid arthritis and depression. If you live with RA and have been struggling with your mental health, here's what you need to know.

Introduction

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. It affects more than 16.1 million American adults or about 6.7% of the population.

Persistent sadness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and overwhelming fatigue characterize major depression. These symptoms can accompany physical problems such as insomnia, chronic pain, and weight loss or gain.

For women over the age of 40, rheumatoid arthritis (rheumatoid arthritis) is one of the most common chronic health conditions. rheumatoid arthritis affects more than 1.5 million adults in the United States, and women are three times more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than men. Studies have shown that up to 1 in 3 women with rheumatoid arthritis experience depression at some point during their illness.

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause a wide range of symptoms including joint pain, stiffness, swelling, fatigue and you guessed it, depression. In fact, studies have shown that women with RA are two to three times more likely to experience depression than women without rheumatoid arthritis. Yikes! Let’s take a closer look at the connection between rheumatoid arthritis and depression.

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The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Depression

It’s no wonder women with rheumatoid arthritis are at an increased risk of depression. The chronic pain associated with RA can lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. The fatigue, joint stiffness, isolation, and sleep problems associated with RA can make you just want to pull the covers over your head and hide out in bed all day — believe me, I know what this feels like. When you’re in this much pain with no relief in sight, it’s easy for depression to get its greedy little paws on you!

When you add in the financial stress that comes with having a chronic illness, it’s a no-brainer that so many women with RA also live with depression. The cost of medications, doctor’s appointments, and other treatments can quickly add up, putting a strain on both your finances and your mental health. And because rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time, many women worry about how their health will deteriorate as they get older.

However, inflammation may also play a role in feelings of depression. Inflammation is known to increase levels of substances called cytokines in the body. Cytokines are associated with increased levels of depressive symptoms.

Additionally, studies have shown that people who take medications known as TNF inhibitors (which are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis) are at an increased risk of developing depression. This may be due to the fact that TNF inhibitors increase levels of serotonin in the brain (serotonin is a chemical that plays a role in mood regulation).

 

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Treating Depression in Women with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Depression may be common in women with rheumatoid arthritis, but girl, remember you’re not alone! There is help out there. Talk to your healthcare practitioner about your symptoms — that’s what they’re here for. There’s no shame in seeking out help and therapy can be a really effective treatment for depression.

A therapist can help you manage your symptoms and give you tools to deal with negative thought patterns. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your doctor for a referral or check out the website of the National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI). You don’t have to live with the double whammy of both these illnesses – help is available. All you have to do is reach out and grab it.

Conclusion

Depression is a common mental disorder that affects millions of American adults every year – women with rheumatoid arthritis are at an increased risk for developing this condition. There’re several theories about why women with RA are more susceptible to developing depression including chronic pain, fatigue, sleep problems, isolation, financial stress, and inflammation.

Talk to your doctor, get help from a therapist, but above all don’t needlessly suffer in silence. With proper treatment, you can manage your depression and live a good life despite your chronic illness. You deserve to feel better. You deserve to live your best life.

Please leave a comment and let me know about your experiences with rheumatoid arthritis and depression. I’d love to know how you bested this evil demon.

***Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice***

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 I am a registered dietitian/nutritionist and CEO and founder of Nutrition With Susan. I provide personalized nutrition counseling to women with autoimmune disease. I was diagnosed with RA in 2017 and spent years trying to figure out how to get my life back. I’m currently symptom-free and want to help other women feel better too.

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