Can rheumatoid arthritis be caused by stress?

Rheumatoid arthritis can caused by stress.
Rheumatoid arthritis can caused by stress.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory joint condition and an autoimmune disease. It has no definite cure and only the symptoms can be managed. At times, treatment can make rheumatoid arthritis symptoms (pain and swelling) disappear for a while. This symptom-free period is referred to as “remission.” A remission is followed by the reappearance of symptoms and this period is known as a flare-up.

Research says that rheumatoid arthritis can be caused by stress. Stress triggers rheumatoid arthritis by setting off the immune system’s inflammatory response in which cytokines are released. Cytokines are chemicals that play an important role in inflammation and can increase the severity of rheumatoid arthritis in some patients. The greater the exposure to stress, the greater the inflammation becomes. This triggers a rheumatoid arthritis flare.

Can rheumatoid arthritis affect mental health?

Rheumatoid arthritis contributes to stress and affects mental health, especially when its symptoms occur for a longer time. Constant joint pain and poor sleep create a vicious cycle. Each symptom worsens the others and adds to the stress the patient already feels. When a patient feels tired due to stress, they don’t feel like exercising. A lack of exercise triggers pain, which makes it harder to sleep. The patient  gets anxious about future disability, getting pregnant or handling the financial burden of treatment. These things only add up to more stress. 

Around one out of five patients with rheumatoid arthritis has depression due to the illness. Depression, in turn, further aggravates rheumatoid arthritis and leads to a greater number of painful joints, reduced functioning (higher number of days in bed) and increased visits to the doctor’s clinic. All these further affect the patient’s mental health and cause more stress and depression.

How does a patient calm down rheumatoid arthritis?

Stress can cause rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis itself can also cause stress. Treatments that don’t work or their side effects might affect the patient’s mind. Joint pain and swelling can make routine activities difficult for the patient. All these things that come with rheumatoid arthritis can make the patient stressed, which can further trigger joint inflammation.

The patient can calm down rheumatoid arthritis by following a few steps

  • Take pain medications: Analgesics help a lot to relieve joint pain. Take them as scheduled as prescribed by the doctor. Make sure to drink enough water during the day.
  • Use a warm or cold compress: Warm packs reduce stiffness and ice packs work on the inflamed joint. 
  • Go for massage therapy: Getting a massage can ease pain and relieve stress and anxiety.
  • Try relaxation techniques: These include deep breathing, meditation, Tai chi and yoga.
  • Seek cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): Psychotherapists use CBT to help the patient change the way they think about situations that may be contributing to anxiety. Lower stress levels may also reduce flares.
  • Regular exercises and a healthy diet: These two things in combination can help reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis. Exercise also has many direct benefits for arthritis, including strengthening joint-supporting muscles and helping with weight loss. Both cardio and flexibility training helps rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Keep weight in check: Obesity affects RA. Hence, modify lifestyle to control weight gain and, subsequently, rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Enjoy simple pleasures: Patients should do what they enjoy. Watch a funny movie,  paint, go for long walks, work in the garden, light a fragrant candle and soak in a bubble bath.
  • Join a support group: If patients find it hard to handle stress and rheumatoid arthritis, they should join a support group.
  • Listen to soothing music, sing or dance: When patients cannot turn off negative thoughts, turn on some feel-good, foot-tapping, upbeat music and sing along and dance.
  • Trust the doctor: The patient needs to have faith in their doctor. If the patient has doubts about some treatments, they should discuss it with their doctor, but should not stop treatment. 
  • Complementary and alternative therapy: Natural treatments can be useful for some individuals when used in combination with traditional treatment options. For example, Ayurvedic treatments offer a holistic approach to treat rheumatoid arthritis. However, the patient needs to talk with their doctor before they try any of them.
  • Ask for medicines: If the above activities fail to help, medications such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds can help relieve anxiety. These medicines should only be used in the short-term and under medical supervision.


What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis See Slideshow

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Medically Reviewed on 8/28/2020
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