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Stressful situations increase fatigue among people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and people who worry tend to experience higher RA disease activity. These results were published in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

The stress response refers to automatic physical changes that occur in response to a real or perceived threat or change. In the short term, this response can boost our ability to react to difficult situations, but if stress becomes chronic, it can produce a wide range of adverse health effects.

To explore the effects of stress and worrying among people with RA, researchers in the Netherlands conducted a study among 80 people. Study participants were monitored on a monthly basis for six months.

  • People with more daily stressors were more likely to report fatigue the following month.
  • Worrying was associated with higher patient-reported disease activity, more swollen joints, and more pain the following month.
  • These results persisted even after the researchers accounted for factors such as medication use, disease duration, and demographic characteristics.
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These results suggest that stress and worry may worsen RA symptoms. Although the study did not address whether stress management provides benefits, it’s possible that learning to manage sources of stress and your response to them could contribute to better RA control.

Reference: Evers AWM, Verhoeven EWM, van Middendorp H et al. Does stress affect the joints? Daily stressors, stress vulnerability, immune and HPA axis activity, and short-term disease and symptom fluctuations in rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases. Early online publication July 9, 2013.