It May Be Getting Easier to Live with RA

Rheumatoid arthritis related psychological distress and physical disability declining

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can be physically challenging. Swollen, painful joints can affect a person psychologically, as well. Researchers have found that life has become easier for many patients today.

Thanks in large part to better treatment, people living with RA were found to be functioning and feeling better than patients living with the disease 20 years ago, according to a recent study.

Significantly fewer individuals diagnosed with RA these days were depressed, anxious or with physical disability than patients from two decades ago.

"Don’t ignore joint pain and swelling."

Cécile L. Overman, a PhD candidate with the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, and colleagues looked at psychological distress and physical disability in RA patients over the past 20 years — a period spanning 1990 to 2011.

For this study, 1,151 patients newly diagnosed with RA were recruited during this 20-year timeframe.

Psychological distress, depressed mood, anxiety, functional status, disability and disease activity were assessed using various survey instruments. Assessments were made at the time of diagnosis and for the following three to five years.

At diagnosis in 1990-1994, the average percentage of patients with depressed mood was 43 percent, which declined to 32 percent in 2004-2008.

About a third (34 percent) of patients had anxiety at the time of their RA diagnosis, which decreased to 21 percent in 2004-2008.

Physical disability was reported in 64 percent of patients at diagnosis, compared to 60 percent in 2004-2008.

At follow-up in 1994-1998, these numbers decreased and were lower again in 2007-2011.

Depressed mood was seen in 25 percent of patients in 1994-1998, compared to 14 percent of patients in 2007-2011.

Anxiety was experienced by 23 percent of patients in 1994-1998 and 12 percent of patients in 2007-2011.

Physical disability was reported by 53 percent of patients in 1994-1998 versus 31 percent of patients in 2007-2011.

So between 1990 and 2011, the percentage of patients with depression decreased from 43 percent to 14 percent. The percentage of those with anxiety fell from 34 percent to 12 percent, and the percentage of RA patients with physical disability went from 64 percent to 31 percent.

"Earlier diagnosis, more intensive interventions along with recommendations to live a full life and to be physically active may help improve daily living for those with RA," Overman said in a statement.

These positive trends, according to the researchers, may be attributed in part to lower disease activity.

"The results indicate that patients with RA have a better opportunity to live a valued life nowadays than 20 years ago,” the researchers wrote.

Findings from this study were published in the December issue of Arthritis Care & Research.

Funding for this research came from the Faculty of Social and Behavioral Science of Utrecht University and the Dutch Arthritis Foundation.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
December 16, 2013
Last Updated:
January 2, 2014