Image Concerns are Linked to Depression and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • A study published online in the March 2007 issue of Arthritis Care & Research finds that image concerns are linked to depression in people with RA and lupus.  Rheumatoid Arthritis can cause noticeable joint damage and deformity, such as gnarled, painful hands; muscle contractures around joints; or limping caused by painful, stiff leg and hip joints.  Lupus can cause skin rashes and lesions as well as deformities in the hands. 

     

    The study included 157 patients with either lupus, newly diagnosed RA, or chronic RA.  The results found that all the patients experienced psychological distress and a negative impact on their health related quality of life.  Many patients also felt unattractive because of the effects of the disease (53% of patients with lupus, 34% with newly diagnosed RA, and 30% with chronic RA.  There was also a link between image concerns and physical disability and depression in people with RA.  Patients with lupus showed a link between image concerns and depression.  The researchers hope that this information will help target areas of psychological treatment in order to lessen the psychological impact of the disease.

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    Do you find that you are often self-conscious or feel unattractive because of your arthritis?  Share your thoughts.

     

    I am much more self-confident than I was as a child.  I was shy and extremely self-conscious even through high school because my disease was much more active then and I was always teased by kids.  Surgeries had not corrected my limp or my very deformed foot. I had ulcers and difficulty gaining weight because of the early arthritis medications, so I was a short, extremely skinny child.  Since I didn’t weigh 50 pounds until the 5th grade, I grew up with mean nicknames like “chicken legs” and “Ethiopian girl” and “gimp.”  My swollen left knee only made the boniness of my legs look worse, so I was known for dressing like the boys in jeans and tube socks to make my legs look thicker (and to avoid wearing skirts at all costs). 


    I would often cry after school, especially on days that I was teased, because I hated always being singled out by the teachers and scorned by the other kids.  I was grateful for friends who protected me from bullies and the generally mean kids.  But I hated my body and I hated the situation and I was good at working myself up into a wail because I wasn’t “normal.” And I couldn’t do everything everyone else could do.  I finally had a foot reconstruction when I was 15, which allowed me to wear flat dress shoes and walk with almost no limp for the first time.  Once my cast was off and the older kids stopped calling me “gimp”, my self-confidence slowly started to increase. 

     

    I don’t often feel self-conscious anymore, except on the first few dates with a new beau (wondering if he’ll notice my scars or my lame finger), or singing at church without music (holding music disguises my 40 degree elbow contractures).  And I sometimes get a little self-conscious during summer sandal season because of my funky feet.  But overall, most people never notice my scars or my feet or the asymmetry of my jaw unless I tell them about it first.  So to me, I guess this research comes as no surprise, because I have often felt the sadness associated with feeling unattractive or different. I remember my mother being sympathetic and always telling me that I was pretty.  But I don’t ever remember my doctors or any other health care providers talking to me about the psychosocial aspects of childhood RA.  I do hope that future research or treatments focus more on body image and self-confidence for children with lupus or RA. 

Published On: February 28, 2007