How to Manage Depression With Rheumatoid Arthritis
If you've had RA for a while, it won't come as a surprise: A serious case of the blues can sometimes tag along with your achy joints.
But it doesn't have to be this way. The right approach can lift your spirits and keep depression from becoming a regular visitor.
Treat the Arthritis
Your first step is to ease the joint pain that can fuel your depression. Megan Koelzer, a 21-year-old with rheumatoid arthritis, has personally seen how those symptoms are connected.
"When I'm having a bad flare [of arthritis], the anxiety and depression will come on," says the student at Central Michigan University. "In the same sense, if I get a really bad day with the depression and anxiety, the arthritis acts up."
"It's like a vicious cycle," says Ozlem Pala, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "When you're depressed, then the sensation of pain will also be increased."
If you hurt less, your mood may get a boost. It's important to follow a medical plan and keep up with your meds to get your RA pain under control, says James O'Dell, MD, chief of the rheumatology division at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Talk to Your Doctor
Get his input on more than just your arthritis. Your doctor can also trouble-shoot your emotional health and recommend a therapist who treats depression. He can also suggest a psychiatrist who can prescribe antidepressant medications, if that's right for your situation.
"Letting your doctor know and telling them you are willing to see someone to help deal with depression is critical," O'Dell says.
Exercise eases pain and boosts your mood at the same time. Several studies show less depression in adults with rheumatoid arthritis who exercise.
Be careful what kind you choose, though, especially when you have a flare of RA symptoms. Stretching and low-impact activities are a good choice. Try walking, biking, or swimming.