Arthritis is a difficult-to-live with condition, marked by pain and reduced mobility. Unfortunately, arthritis symptoms don’t stop at just physical symptoms. Patients also experience additional challenges, ranging from mood disorders to an increased risk of poverty.
What are common physical arthritis symptoms?
Physically, arthritis is the blanket term for more than 100 conditions that cause joint pain. The physical arthritis symptoms most of these types have in common include:
- Joint pain and swelling
- Limited mobility
Osteoarthritis is the most common form, affecting more than 27 million people nationally. Patients experience eroding cartilage in their joints, leading to pain as ultimately bone rubs against bone during movement. Osteoarthritis mostly occurs in older people, although little is known about why it develops.
Another common form is rheumatoid arthritis, which affects 1.5 million people in the U.S. The condition is an autoimmune disease, which means the body’s defense mechanisms rally to fight against its own joint tissue. This results in painful inflammation.
No matter which type of arthritis a person has developed, the pain, stress, and uncertainty that comes along with a chronic condition has been shown in numerous studies to increase the risk of mood disorders like depression and can also lay the foundation for a risk of poverty.
Arthritis and mood disorders are linked, here’s how
About one-third of arthritis patients experience depression and anxiety, according to the Arthritis Foundation. Experts say these mood disorders often go undiagnosed, leaving patients without the treatment and support they need to improve. Treating mental distress is important because it could reduce pain. However, only about 50% of arthritis patients with depression or anxiety seek help.
Meanwhile, about 40% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis develop depression, the Foundation says. This melancholy is also associated with worse pain, higher death rates, and a greater likelihood of developing additional health concerns.
Let’s discuss some of the recent research into these mental health arthritis symptoms.
Impact on exercise
Depression, anxiety, and arthritis often co-exist in the same patient, researchers have found. Researchers at the University of Basel investigated this link and theorized that depression reduces a person’s interest in exercising, which increases the risk of developing arthritis.
However, the reverse could also be true, scientists said. Joint pain could reduce a person’s ability to exercise, which then contributes to depression. Exercise is a powerful way to improve mood; it encourages the release of natural feel-good chemicals and also reduces stress.
A third theory blamed inflammation, with scientists noting that some studies have cited inflammation as a cause of depression. Inflammation is an inherent part of arthritis and a cause of much pain.
Researchers said more research is needed to analyze this link more deeply. This, in turn, could help doctors better treat people living with both physical arthritis symptoms and mood disorders.
Talk therapy for arthritis symptoms?
Another common depression treatment may also help alleviate osteoarthritis pain, a study says. Researchers at the University of Manchester have found that the brains of osteoarthritis patients may process pain abnormally. They theorize that targeting the errant processing through talk therapy rooted in mindfulness may help.
Researcher Anthony Jones says:
“The extent of pain experienced by sufferers of arthritis has always been thought to result from the direct consequences of joint destruction. However, the extent of pain is often poorly related to the amount of damage.”
A wide disparity exists among the levels of pain reported by arthritis patients. Two patients with similar stages of arthritis symptoms do not always report similar levels of pain. Additionally, many patients experience pain in areas of the body that don’t have arthritis.
The scientists hypothesized that patients feel arthritis pain in ways similar to those with fibromyalgia. To further investigate how the brain operates in these conditions, researchers measured brain functioning across several groups of people: those with osteoarthritis, with fibromyalgia, and no pain at all. Researchers used a short, painful laser pulse as the stimulus.
Researchers found the subjects’ experience of pain was directly related to brain activity, and that patients with osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia may experience similar abnormalities in pain processing. Patients experiencing the most pain experienced heightened activity in an area of the brain called the insula cortex, and lessened activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which also related to a more difficult time coping with pain.
Researchers believe that by artificially increasing activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, they could help patients better cope with pain and encourage healthier functioning. Mindfulness-based talking therapy is one way of changing the way a person’s brain responds to pain. As a bonus, it could also help to alleviate depression or anxiety.
Treating depression and heart disease, together
Treating depression in patients with rheumatoid arthritis is also important for reducing risk of heart disease, study shows.
Living with a chronic disease is difficult and often gives rise to painful emotions like anger, stress, and anxiety. These emotional arthritis symptoms, coupled with an inadequate support network, have been linked to plaque-filled arteries in rheumatoid arthritis patients, according to research published in the journal Arthritis Care and Research.
Researchers say that screening patients for mood disorders could reduce the number of people who develop cardiovascular disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis have higher rates of heart disease than the general population.
Arthritis symptoms, depression, and sleep issues
Sleepless nights also increase risk for heightened pain and depression for osteoarthritis patients, researchers say.
Many people with osteoarthritis report their pain keeps them up at night, and researchers at the University of Alabama found that patients in the most pain experienced the highest rates of depression, fueled by a combination of pain and sleepless nights. In a vicious cycle, pain makes it harder to sleep, which can cause more pain and increase the risk of depression.
Depression also interferes with sleep quality and the experience of pain, researchers said. Study authors are hopeful that additional research could uncover treatments to interfere with this harmful cycle.
Bipolar treatment for arthritis?
A drug used to treat bipolar disorder could also offer hope for arthritis patients, scientists discover.
Lithium chloride, commonly used as a mood stabilizer for bipolar patients, could slow the breakdown of cartilage that occurs with osteoarthritis, according to research from Queen Mary University of London. Study co-author Martin Knight says:
“While we’re still at an early stage in researching lithium’s effects on cartilage and its suitability as a treatment, the possibility that an already widely available pharmaceutical could slow its progress is a significant step forward.”
Arthritis patients also face an increased risk of poverty
Arthritis is a painful condition that results in pain and reduced mobility. It’s also the leading cause of disability in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That could be one reason why arthritis is associated with increased rates of poverty, especially among women, according to research published in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatology.
The research on arthritis and poverty
In the study, researchers surveyed 4,000 people and found that arthritis increased a woman’s risk of living in poverty by 51%. For men, the added risk was 22%.
Researchers also examined the number of patients with arthritis who live in “multidimensional poverty”—a compilation of educational attainment, income, and health. Arthritic women were 87% more likely to fall into this category, along with 29% of arthritic men. Study author Dr. Emily Callander says:
“With population aging occurring in most of the developed nations around the world, health conditions such as arthritis will become increasingly common. That developing arthritis has such a pronounced impact on the risk of falling into poverty should flag to policy makers in welfare departments the influence of the condition on national living standards.”
Researchers also said the high poverty rates should signal health care professionals that more affordable methods of managing pain and preventing disability are critical to improving people’s lives.
Arthritis is closely linked to poverty. Researchers urge policy makers to take action and help those who are suffering. Globally, about one in eight adults live with arthritis, and experts predict that number will increase by 50% over the next 20 years, according to Medpage Today.
Before the study, researchers knew that low-income people were more likely to have arthritis than people with higher incomes. This research covered new ground in that it began investigating the reverse, the idea that having arthritis could be the determining factor in losing income and falling into poverty.
How does arthritis contribute to poverty?
Arthritis is a condition marked by painful joint inflammation and reduced mobility. Many patients have difficulty climbing stairs or walking even relatively short distances, according to CDC.
Other difficult-to-perform tasks may include grasping small objects, sitting for more than a couple hours, kneeling or bending over, or carrying more than ten pounds.
Although varying stages of arthritis exist, about 43% of patients report limited activity, according to the CDC. And 31% of patients between the ages of 18 to 64—the range considered working age—say the condition limits their ability to work.
Race also affects an arthritis patient’s risk of falling into poverty. For instance, although the CDC says arthritis rates are lower among black people than white, blacks are more likely than whites to experience limitations in daily activities and the ability to work.
The same is true for Hispanics, who have lower rates of arthritis than white people, but are more likely to experience activity limitations or difficulties working. Minorities with arthritis are also more likely to report severe pain than white people with the condition.
Arthritis and work
Arthritis pain makes it difficult to work, increasing the risk for poverty. Fortunately, help is available.
While exercise and healthy eating are often recommended to reduce arthritis pain and related inflammation, expensive medications or treatments are sometimes necessary. Out-of-pocket costs for this care can be expensive, making it difficult to access for low-income patients or those living in poverty. And in some cases, paying for medical treatment puts patients in financial ruin.
Treatments for the autoimmune disease rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, tend to be very costly. Research and development is expensive, and drug manufacturers must pass that cost onto consumers in an effort to recoup their investment, according to WebMD. This process of extensive research also means fewer generic options are available, forcing patients to pay for expensive brand name drugs.
Also, some of these drugs must be given through an infusion, requiring the additional cost of a doctor’s visit.
Arthritis financial assistance programs
Fortunately, there are people working to alleviate patients from the non-physical symptoms of arthritis. For example, variety of programs are available to help patients access the financial care they need. These include the following.
This organization offers two programs: one that helps qualified people pay for medication co-payments and another that helps people pay for health insurance premiums.
Patients must apply to each program separately, but can receive money from both if they qualify and if funds are available.
NeedMeds is a storehouse of information, a website that helps people navigate the vast network of available resources. Users can search by condition, government program, or state.
The website is an easy way to search through the 5,000 assistance programs, 1,500 medication coupons, and 13,000 health clinics serving low-income people that are listed.
3. Patient Advocate Foundation (PAF)
This non-profit intervenes with insurance companies, employers, and creditors as needed on the patient’s behalf. PAF helps people keep their jobs, negotiate debt issues, and can help sort out problems with insurance.
The organization has on staff attorneys, case managers, and doctors who are knowledgeable about the confusing system that arthritis patients may have trouble navigating.
While PAF also offers a Co-Pay Relief Program that helps qualified patients pay for medicine or treatment, the organization’s primary function is to be an advocate. For example, a person may feel discriminated at work because of arthritis. PAF can help.
The organization’s website also offers an abundance of information about other types of help available, such as a directory of payment assistance programs offered by drug manufacturers and databases of available help for those who are uninsured and underinsured.
Arthritis patients in the most pain with the least mobility are often advised to undergo joint replacement surgery. This surgery can be expensive, and it involves a lengthy recovery time that could impact a person’s ability to earn money.
Operation Walk USA offers free knee and hip replacement surgeries to qualified U.S. patients. This allows people to regain mobility and with it, their lives. The organization works by connecting patients with a network of physicians who operate pro bono.
If you suffer from arthritis, there are doctors and assistance programs to help you deal with the lesser known arthritis symptoms, such as poverty and mental health challenges.
For mental health challenges, work closely with a pain doctor. They can connect you to mental health professionals in the community who are experts at working with pain patients. They can also connect you with local pain support groups.
Likewise, working with a compassionate doctor can help you alleviate some of the financial burden of arthritis. They can connect you to assistance programs, or introduce a blend of lower-cost treatments into your pain treatment. Click here to find a pain doctor in your area today.
Are you an arthritis patient who has experienced non-physical arthritis symptoms because of your condition? Share your story in the comments below.