Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) has many physical symptoms. But those living with RA may also experience mental health issues that may be related to the condition. Mental health refers to your emotional and psychological well-being.

Scientists aren’t sure about all of the connections between RA and mental wellness, but new research provides insight. Some of the same processes of inflammation that cause RA are also linked to depression.

Paying attention to your emotional and mental state is an important aspect of your overall well-being, and may even impact how you manage RA. If you have concerns about anxiety, depression, or changes in mood, let your doctor know. Your doctor can learn about your symptoms, ask additional questions, and suggest options for lifestyle changes, therapy, and treatment.

Read on to learn more about the connection between RA and mental health, including the links between RA, depression, and anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental illnesses that people living with RA experience. A 2017 study conducted in Britain found that within 5 years of RA diagnosis, about 30 percent of people develop depression.

People with RA may also experience anxiety, at a rate of about 20 percent, according to a different 2017 study in the British Journal of General Practice. That study also reported the rate of depression to be significantly higher, at 39 percent.

Although depression and anxiety don’t manifest the same physical symptoms as RA, they come with their own challenges. Living with more than one long-term health condition in itself can be difficult. Some people experience depression, anxiety, and RA all at once.

According to the Mayo Clinic, untreated depression can make it harder to treat RA. That’s supported by recent research.

A 2017 study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine found the link between depression and RA goes both ways. Pain from RA can make depression worse, which in turn makes it harder to manage RA symptoms.

That is in part because pain causes stress, and stress causes a release of chemicals that change mood. When mood changes, there is a domino effect. It’s harder to sleep and stress levels may rise. Simply put, anxiety and depression appear to worsen pain or make it more difficult to manage pain.

Focusing only on RA, without addressing mental health conditions like anxiety or depression, can lead to lower quality of life. The Mayo Clinic states that people may see a decline in various aspects of daily living. They may have higher pain levels and greater risk for heart disease. Personal relationships and productivity at work may also be affected.

It turns out there may be a direct, biological connection between depression and RA.

The pain and joint damage of RA comes, in part, from inflammation. And there’s evidence of a link between inflammation and depression. Levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), one of the ways researchers measure inflammation, are often higher in people with depression. A 2018 study found that CRP may be significantly higher in those whose depression is hard to treat.

It’s too early to say that inflammation is a reason why many people experience both conditions. But the potential link is an important new focus of research.

The coexistence of mental illness with forms of arthritis is well-known, but people living with RA aren’t always screened. This can lead to untreated mental health conditions.

The study in the British Journal of General Practice noted that people may begin to think of their depression or anxiety as normal. They may also think doctors place more importance on treating the physical symptoms of RA rather than potentially related mental health conditions.

Some people may be nervous to discuss their mental health or concerned that their doctor may dismiss their mental symptoms. But finding the resources to manage your mental health effectively is vital to your overall well-being. Whether you speak to your doctor, seek out a therapist on your own, or contact a support group, there are many options to help you address your mental health.

If you live with RA, it’s important to consider your mental health as well as your physical health. There may be a link between RA and some mental health conditions, particularly depression. Seeking treatment for a mental health condition may also help you manage RA more effectively. If you’re concerned about your mental health, talk to you doctor about what treatments and resources are available to help.

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