Rates of anxiety and depression in patients with rheumatoid arthritis correlate with measures of the disease’s activity over the first year following diagnosis, according to new research.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects a person’s joints, causing pain and disability. RA is more common in older people, but there is also a high prevalence in young adults and adolescents. It affects women more frequently than men.

High rates of depression and anxiety have been shown in patients with RA, according to researchers.

“These results confirm both depression and anxiety as significant comorbidities at the time of rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis,” said Professor Thomas Dörner, chairman of the Abstract Selection Committee of the European League against Rheumatism (EULAR). “It is interesting to see the changes in anxiety and depression scores appear in tandem with disease activity over time, which requires further investigation.”

Presented at the Annual European Congress of Rheumatology (EULAR 2018),  the study included data from 848 patients.

It discovered significant reductions in anxiety — from 19 percent to 13.4 percent — and depression — from 12.2 percent to 8.2 percent — one year after RA diagnosis. These reductions were in line with a decrease in the disease’s activity, according to researchers.

Both depression and anxiety scores demonstrated a significant correlation with disease activity scores at baseline, six months, and at 12 months, according to the study’s findings.

“Our results demonstrate a number of interesting associations with socioeconomic and other variables,” said Dr. George Fragoulis, honorary research fellow at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

“Most interestingly, c-reactive protein, which is a blood test marker for inflammation, was highly associated with depression, but not anxiety at all time points. This provides further support to compelling data linking inflammation and depression.”

For the study, researchers conducted statistical analysis to highlight potential associations between depression and anxiety scores and multiple variables at each time point.

When looking at anxiety scores, statistically significant associations were found with being female, younger ages, and patient global assessment score (PGA) at baseline.

At six months and 12 months, significant association was demonstrated between anxiety scores and low body mass index (BMI), PGA, and baseline anxiety scores. When looking at depression scores, significant associations were found with PGA at baseline, according to the study’s findings.

At six months and 12 months, depression scores were significantly associated with PGA, c-reactive protein levels, as well as baseline depression and anxiety scores.

The study used data from patients in the Scottish Early Rheumatoid Arthritis (SERA) cohort of newly diagnosed patients with RA. Patients had been followed up every six months following diagnosis and tested for pre-specified clinical, laboratory and psychosocial features. This included anxiety and depression, which was measured using the hospital anxiety and depression score.

Source: European League against Rheumatism (EULAR)