The personality of a patient can have a major impact on how susceptible they are to long-term problems from rheumatoid arthritis, according to new research. The published study explains doctors need to pay attention to factors not related to the disease when they screen at-risk patients.
There is no doubt being diagnosed with a chronic, disabling disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can have a significant impact on a person's life. Patients have to deal with a potentially uncontrollable, unpredictable, long-term condition that can have a physical, psychological and social impact on their life. While many patients adjust to this change, it's estimated 20 percent suffer heightened levels of anxiety and depression. Researchers from The Netherlands looked at the role of personality characteristics to determine who is best able to cope with a diagnosis.
Researchers studied 78 patients who were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The patients were assessed for anxiety and depressed mood at the time of the diagnosis and again after three and five years. Researchers looked at the role of neuroticism (a person who is overanxious, oversensitive and obsessive), clinical status, disease influence on daily life, and major life events. They also looked at coping and social support at the time of diagnosis.
The study finds a worse clinical status, more neuroticism, and lower education level at the time of diagnosis were significantly related to an increased psychological distress at the three- and five-year follow-up. However, the personality characteristics of neuroticism proved to be the most consistent and effective predictor of anxiety and depression after three and five years.
Researchers feel the study shows the importance of paying close attention to factors other than the disease when studying risk factors for heightened distress over time. Authors write, "In addition, screening patients with lower education levels and higher levels of neuroticism may be highly recommended in clinical practice, since these patients are known to report physical symptoms that do not stem purely from rheumatoid arthritis disease activity."