Is depression common in people with rheumatoid arthritis?

Answer From April Chang-Miller, M.D.

Rheumatoid arthritis and depression commonly occur together. Although this is known, people with rheumatoid arthritis often aren't screened for depression, so it may not be diagnosed or treated. Studies show that if depression occurring with rheumatoid arthritis isn't addressed, the treatment for rheumatoid arthritis itself can be less effective.

It's unclear whether depression and anxiety in people with rheumatoid arthritis are a result of their physical symptoms, or if depression is yet another symptom caused by the chronic, systemic inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers believe that people who had depression before the onset of rheumatoid arthritis may be less responsive to their rheumatoid arthritis treatment. More research is needed to determine the exact connection between all types of arthritis and depression. Left untreated, depression in people with rheumatoid arthritis may result in:

  • Greater pain
  • Greater risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks
  • Loss of productivity at work
  • Increased risk of economic hardship
  • Deterioration of relationships with friends and family
  • Sexual dysfunction

What is known is that people who have rheumatoid arthritis and depression that occur together respond better to treatment when both conditions are addressed.

Although different medications may be prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis and depression, many activities can be helpful in addressing the physical and emotional effects of both conditions, such as:

  • Regular exercise
  • Stress management techniques
  • Friends and support groups familiar with the challenges of both conditions

People with all types of arthritis are at high risk of depression and anxiety. If you have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and are feeling depressed or are worried about developing depression, it's important to talk to your doctor. With medication, support and a personalized plan of action, depression and rheumatoid arthritis are treatable conditions.

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Sept. 21, 2023 See more Expert Answers