Ask Dr. Arthritis: Could Stress Trigger Arthritis?

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Think back to the last time you had a flare up. Did a stressful or traumatic event precede it?

Researchers have long tried to make a definitive connection between emotional distress and arthritis. But while numerous studies claim to link negative life events to the onset of the condition, a lot of questions still remain.

Making the Connection

As far back as 2010, a study among people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) saw subjects who were able to directly connect a stressful event to the onset of their condition. The researchers however concluded that the correlation was made to give meaning and establish a sense of control over their condition.

While there may be no direct cause-and-effect relationship however, other studies point to an association between stress and increased risk. In fact, one study saw a 100 percent increase in rheumatic diseases for people who had experienced two or more traumatic events in childhood, versus those who didn’t.  And in a different research involving veterans, more symptoms and impairment presented itself among subjects with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

The Role of Stress

Studies made on the subject are extensive, but to date, the role stress has over arthritis remains unclear—even amid numerous research and growing evidence that it could make arthritic symptoms worse.

Why? Chalk it up to the fact that stress itself is particularly hard to measure.

Stress is subjective. People’s reactions will vary greatly depending on a lot of subjective factors such as the cause, the patient’s current state of mind and emotions, health, the environment, just to name a few. Add to that the fact that the human body also doesn’t have a standard response that researchers can bank on, and studies ultimately have very little quantitative data that can be used use to make a definitive conclusion.

What Can You Do About It?

Of course, the medical community is hard at work to give millions of sufferers an answer.

As they continue to try to find a connection between stress and arthritis, one thing is for sure: stress can affect your health in general—even though you may not realize it—and it can manifest itself in different ways. This can result in nagging headaches or persistent insomnia, chest pains, stomach problems, restlessness, irritability and anxiety. And if you already suffer from chronic pain, adding all these to your arthritis symptoms can be very overwhelming.

Try to find ways to manage you stress–

  • If at all possible, try to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine.
  • Practice relaxation techniques including meditation and deep breathing.
  • Try to keep everything in perspective.
  • Do not alienate family and friends, even during your worst days.
  • Set aside time to pursue a hobby—even something as simple as reading, or listening to music.
  • Eat a healthy balanced diet

And, perhaps most important of all…

  • Know when to seek help. There are others out there who know exactly what you’re going through. Find a support group, talk to your doctor, reach out to family, and friends, and identify channels that can help you open up about what it’s like to live with arthritis.

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to leave us a comment below.

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