Rheumatoid arthritis patients are twice as likely to suffer from depression, a new study has found.
However, the study by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill also noted that these patients are not likely to tell their doctors about it.
One of the most common forms of chronic inflammatory arthritis is Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), an unbearable disease known for its inflammation of joint tissues, functional disability, persistent pain, stiffness and fatigue.
In the new study that was led by Betsy Sleath, PhD, a professor at the UNC School of Pharmacy, researchers questioned 200 arthritis patients from four rheumatology clinics and eight participating doctors.
Patient visits were audiotaped, and they were interviewed after their medical visits using a questionnaire to assess depressive symptoms.
The researchers found that almost 11 percent of RA patients had moderately severe to severe symptoms of depression, and that the ones who were more restricted in their normal activities were significantly more likely to have these symptoms.
The study also discovered that it was only one in five of the patients, who had the symptoms of depression, discussed it with their rheumatologists, and that it was always the patients who brought up the topic and not their physician. However, when the topic on depression was brought up, it was never really discussed in detail.
Sleath has laid stress on the importance of the rheumatologists discussing both RA and depression with their patients, and not making arthritis as the main focus when they see their patients.
"Chronic diseases can greatly affect a patient's psychosocial well-being, and depression can also affect a patient's adherence to treatment regimens," Sleath said.
"Since many arthritis patients see their rheumatologist more often then their primary-care physician, we recommend that rheumatologists take steps to screen patients for signs of depression," she added.
Sleath also feels that if physicians are uncomfortable discussing depression with their patients, they could get their office staff to administer a brief depression screening before the patients' visits, so as to be able to identify problems early on.
Another important aspect is that patients should get appropriate treatment, and rheumatologists can treat the depression themselves, or refer patients to a mental health professional or communicate with the patient's primary-care physician to coordinate a treatment plan.
The study is titled "Communication about Depression during Rheumatoid Arthritis Patient Visits" and was published in Feb 08 issue of Arthritis Care & Research.