The bad news is that any way you cut it, (RA) is a disabling systemic disease that can flare unpredictably. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body s immune system goes haywire and attacks various joints, (and sometimes other tissues), causing extremely painful inflammation and disfigurement. Understandably, victims of the disease are prone to psychological distress as well as sometimes-extensive physical disability.
There is some good news, however, according to a paper by CÃ©cile L. Overman, a Ph.D. Candidate with the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology, Utrecht University in The Netherlands, and colleagues. Their report was published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. These investigators monitored over 1100 RA patients from 1990 until 2011, from the time they were first diagnosed until 3 to 5 years later. Patients were between 17 and 86 years old at diagnosis, and 68 percent of them were female.
According to the researchers, recent changes in the management of RA, such as encouraging patients to remain physically active, as well as targeting the disease earlier with more intensive and aggressive pharmacological treatment, have reduced the occurrence of anxiety, physical disability, and depressed mood. They found that the percentages of patients with depression, anxiety and physical disability at the 3 to 5 year follow up changed from 25, 23, and 53 percent 20 years ago to 14, 12, and 31 percent currently. They speculated that these decreases stemmed from decreased disease activity; but even taking this factor into account, the decrease in physical disability remained statistically significant.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross, a board-certified rheumatologist, comments To be sure, this cruel disease has not been conquered yet, but these data provide hope that RA patients have a better chance to live a normal, productive life than was the case even 20 years ago. As pharmacology and treatment guidelines continue to evolve, perhaps RA patients will benefit even further.