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Can Stress Make Rheumatoid Arthritis Worse?

By

Paige Greenfield

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This content is created or selected by the Healthgrades editorial team and is funded by an advertising sponsor. The content is subject to the Healthgrades medical review process for accuracy, balance and objectivity. The content is not edited or otherwise influenced by the advertisers appearing on this page except with the possible suggestion of the broad topic area. For more information, read the HealthGrades advertising policy.

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Inflammation from RA can make it difficult to use your hands.
portrait of stressed woman

In short, yes. However, the reality is a little more complex. That’s because while stress can worsen the disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can create stress for you.

Stress is especially tough on people with autoimmune diseases such as RA. Some of the pathways involved in your body’s stress response are the same ones involved in autoimmune disease. For people with RA, stress releases chemicals that can trigger flare-ups, along with inflammation and pain.

RA as Internal Stressor

In addition, RA can affect your body’s production of the stress-related chemical cortisol. In other words, RA is a type of internal stressor. With time, stress chemicals like cortisol may increase your risk for serious health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and depression. These problems can lead to even more stress.

W. Hayes Wilson, MD, discusses the basics of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and treatment.

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Feb 16, 2015

2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

As you likely already know, you may feel stressed because of your RA symptoms. No one likes moving slowly, and stiff joints can make it difficult to move around and get places on time. It can be stressful when daily activities or hobbies you love to do feel difficult or painful—or even seem impossible.

Get the Best of Stress

Just because you have RA doesn’t mean you have to feel stressed all the time. There’s plenty you can do to control the stress in your life and reduce its impact on your well-being. Here are five ways

1. Exercise. It can help with depression, anxiety, and sleep. Physical activity can even increase levels of chemicals in your body that improve your mood.

2. Breathe deeply. To promote relaxation, practice deep breathing, in through the nose and out through your mouth. Feel your belly rise and fall as you breathe.

3. Talk it out. Telling someone about negative emotions you’re experiencing can help relieve stress. If you don’t feel comfortable talking about these things, write them down in a journal.

4. Embrace the outdoors. Spending time in nature can boost your mood and quell stress. Take a hike or scenic drive. Enjoy a picnic. Plant a garden.

5. Get organized. At the end of each workday, create a to-do list for the following day. This can help you leave work behind so you can enjoy the rest of your day.

Key Takeaways

  • For people with RA, stress releases chemicals that can trigger flare-ups, along with inflammation and pain.

  • In addition, RA can affect your body’s production of the stress-related chemical cortisol, increasing your risk for serious health conditions such as heart disease.

  • There’s plenty you can do to control the stress in your life, including exercise, deep breathing, and spending time outdoors.

Was this helpful? (6)
Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Jul 1, 2015

© 2016 Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Healthgrades Operating Company, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the Healthgrades User Agreement.

View Sources

Medical References

  1. How to Build Resilience and Bounce Back Into Life. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritistoday.org/what-you-can-do/everyday-solutions/coping/building-resilience-3.php
  2. Living With Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/
  3. Stress and Worry Affect RA. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/living-with-arthritis/comorbidities/depression-and-arthritis/stress-rheumat....

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