April 30, 2012 -- One-third of people 45 and older with arthritis report that they are depressed or anxious, a new study shows.
"The emotional consequences of arthritis are high," says researcher Louise Murphy, PhD. She is an epidemiologist in the division of population health at the CDC in Atlanta.
Many doctors are trained to routinely look for symptoms of depression in people with chronic pain conditions like arthritis, but focusing on symptoms of anxiety may also be needed. In the new study, rates of anxiety were almost twice as high as those of depression.
"If we only focus on identifying depression, we are missing out on a substantial amount of people," she says. The findings are publishedin Arthritis Care and Research.
Anxiety More Common Than Depression
Murphy and colleagues looked at rates of reported depression and anxiety among 1,793 people with all types of arthritis. Fully 31% of the participants had anxiety and 18% were depressed. What's more, 84% of people who were depressed also had anxiety, while 50% of those with anxiety were also depressed.
Only half said they'd sought treatment for depression or anxiety in the past year.
Lifestyle changes such as getting regular exercise can often help improve pain as well as anxiety and depression. "The recommendation is to engage in 150 minutes of physical activity a week, but this can be short bursts such 10-minute walks, 15 times a week," says Murphy.
Counseling and/or medication may also have a role, she says.
Better Arthritis Treatment Leads to Less Anxiety, Depression
"Many patients with arthritis have depression or anxiety related to pain, loss of function or participation, and uncertainty," says David Pisetsky, MD, in an email. He is the chief of rheumatology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
"Symptoms can be improved by decreasing pain, increasing physical activity, and controlling disease," he says.
It makes sense that people with arthritis would feel anxious, says Martin Jan Bergman, MD. He is a clinical associate professor of medicine at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia and chief of rheumatology at Taylor Hospital in Ridley Park, Pa.
"If a person is concerned that they are not going to be able to take care of their family or go to work, they are going to be anxious about that," he says.
Making sure the arthritis is treated as aggressively as possible will help reduce pain, limit disability, and likely have spillover benefits for anxiety and depression. "People who feel good about their treatment have much less anxiety," he says.