A new study published in Arthritis Care & Research suggests that one third of US adults living with doctor-diagnosed arthritis (including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, fibromyalgia, or some other form of arthritis) aged 45 or older report having anxiety, depression, or both. The study comprised a phone survey of 1,793 individuals living with arthritis from the Arthritis Condition and Health Effects Survey (ACHES) which is the most comprehensive population-based national survey of US adults with arthritis to date.
Eighteen percent of respondents reported having depression, a common comorbidity in patients living with chronic illnesses including rheumatoid arthritis (Murphy, 2012). In previous studies involving RA patients, nearly 20% of patients experienced depression (Söderlin, 2000). Whether we’re talking about arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or rheumatic diseases, it seems that rates of depression have remained similar over time.
In the current study, almost twice as many people living with arthritis experienced anxiety (30.5%) as compared to depression (17.5%). Eighty-four percent of respondents with depression also reported anxiety. Thus a significant portion of patients (14.7%) living with arthritis experience both depression and anxiety.
Have you ever experienced depression or anxiety, or both, and do you live with a rheumatic disease?
I have and I do. In fact just recently, I wrote about experiencing increased anxiety in the face of a very busy and stressful time. It is the one symptom which I reported as being “off the charts” when I had my 4-month visit with my nurse practitioner at the neurology clinic. We decided to adjust my therapies.
I have been on antidepressants for the better part of 20 years. Only during extraordinary times have I used anti-anxiety medications, or during those times when I’ve received 1000mg of intravenous steroids daily for an MS relapse. My nurse prescribed a low dose of alprazolam (Xanax) and gave me “permission” to use it. Even using it sparingly, I have noticed a difference.
Although I frequently discuss depression or anxiety with my doctor or nurse in the neurology office, I haven’t really discussed mental health issues with my rheumatologist. With MS, symptoms of depression and anxiety can be symptoms of the disease itself, not just a response to the disease. I’ve just not really thought about MY depression as being caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Have you discussed depression or anxiety with your rheumatologist?
About half of the respondents in the current survey who are being treated by a health care professional for their arthritis had not sought treatment for their depression and/or anxiety in the past year. Murphy et al. suggest “there is an unmet need for treatment of mental health conditions among people with arthritis” and that visits with a health care professional “for management of arthritis symptoms may be an opportunity to screen for and treat anxiety and depression.”