The RA-Depression Connection

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Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that attacks and destroys your joints, but its effects aren't limited to your body. RA can take a toll on your mental health, too. In fact, research shows that people with RA are twice as likely to experience depression. Why? Pain may be to blame, especially if you can no longer do things that you enjoy—playing a sport, sewing, walking your dog—because of it.

Depression May Worsen RA

Depression, in turn, may make you less likely to adhere to your RA management plan. When you're depressed, taking steps to control RA symptoms may seem even more difficult to do. And, of course, if you skip your medications or don't follow other treatments, then your RA symptoms can get even worse, exacerbating depression.

Unfortunately, one study reports that only one in five patients with depression tells his or her doctor. But letting your physician know what you're experiencing emotionally as well as physically is the first step toward feeling better.

Could You Be Depressed?

Your rheumatologist may be able to treat your depression, or you may be referred to a mental health specialist. Still, finding the solution starts with you. If any of these symptoms of depression sound familiar, tell your rheumatologist or primary care provider today:

  • Feelings of sadness

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Lack of energy

  • Fluctuations in weight

  • Loss of interest in activities that used to make you happy

  • Thoughts of suicide or death

Key Takeaways

  • People with RA are twice as likely to experience depression as those without the disease.

  • Living with pain may cause depression; in turn, feeling depressed may make you less likely to follow your RA treatment plan.

  • It's essential to understand the signs of depression and ask your doctor for help. 

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 May 6

  1. B. Sleath et al. Communication About Depression During Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient Visits. Arthritis Care & Research. Vol. 59, no. 2, pp. 186-91.

  2. Depression. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health.

  3. Causes of Pain. Arthritis Foundation.

  4. Depression and RA. Arthritis Foundation.

  5. Rheumatoid Arthritis. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health.

  6. Arthritis & Depression. Arthritis Foundation. 

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