People who suffer from arthritis have high rates of depression and anxiety; however, many of those who are affected don’t receive the mental health treatment that could potentially help with their physical arthritis symptoms, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Studies show that having any form of arthritis, from osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to lupus and fibromyalgia, can have a negative effect on your mental health. Specifically, it can manifest as depression or anxiety.
It’s a circular problem, too, meaning mental health problems can worsen arthritis symptoms. Anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association, is characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes such as an increase in blood pressure. It’s common to have intruding thoughts or concerns, with the tendency to avoid certain situations out of worry or fear. Physical symptoms may appear as well, like trembling, sweating, dizziness or rapid heartbeat.
Depression is characterized by prolonged sadness, weight loss or weight gain, a lack of interest in daily activities, excessive sleeping or insomnia, lack of focus and energy, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.
Rates of depression and anxiety in people with arthritis-related diseases have been shown to be between two- and 10-times greater than the rates within the general population. Studies reveal that anxiety and depression lower the pain threshold, allowing that chronic pain to further aggravate anxiety and depression. Going a step further, people with arthritis and depression have more functional limitations than others, are at a higher risk for developing a host of other health problems, and aren’t as likely to adhere to their treatment protocols.
The result? Many people find themselves stuck in a never-ending loop of negative mood, poor health and pain, a vicious cycle that can lead to mismanagement of arthritis.
For example, studies show that arthritis sufferers with the highest pain levels are the most likely to become anxious or depressed. It seems pain incites depression. Living with pain every day can be very physically and emotionally draining, with chronic stress having the ability to change your levels of nervous system and brain chemicals.
In turn, stress hormones and neurochemicals, such as serotonin and cortisol, have an effect on mood, thinking and behavior. When these balances are disrupted, depression can set in. Then, that depression tends to weaken the person’s ability to cope with pain. As a result, their perception of their condition can become even more negative when compared with individuals who do not suffer from depression.
In addition to the link between pain and disability, there is also a link to inflammation and depression in arthritis sufferers. Fatigue, when coupled with that inflammation, can drag a person down, especially if they suffer from something else, like a heart condition or diabetes. With health challenges and pain, people tend to engage in less physical and social activity, and thus become more isolated. All of these negative changes in lifestyle can bring on depression and anxiety.
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