Can Treating Depression Help Reduce Arthritis Pain and Suffering?
Arthritis is a leading cause of disability in elderly Americans, reducing their quality of life, and restricting their activity. Depression is also very common among elderly Americans and is often associated with functional disability, such as the kind caused by OA. This relationship led a group of researchers to wonder what effect (if any) treating depression would have on the pain levels and functional ability of patients who suffered from both diseases.
The results of their study, published in the November 12, 2003 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association found that among elderly Americans who suffered from both OA and depression, improving the quality of care they received for their depression not only improved their depression, but also decreased their level of pain, and increased their functional status and their quality of life.
About the study
The researchers enrolled 1001 elderly patients (age 60 or older) who had been diagnosed with both depression and arthritis (primarily osteoarthritis). They then divided the participants into two groups: the intervention group (those who would be treated for their depression) and the usual care group (those who would not be treated for their depression).
The intervention group could choose the treatment for depression they preferred. These choices consisted of either taking antidepressant medications or receiving six to eight psychotherapy sessions.
All of the participants completed a survey of their symptoms at the time of their enrollment in the trial (referred to as baseline) and every three months thereafter for one year. The survey assessed the participants’ depressive symptoms, intensity of arthritic pain (scale of 0 to 10), difficulty carrying out activities of daily living (scale of 0 to 10), general health status, and overall quality of life.
The researchers found that after one year, regardless of the type of treatment, the patients who received treatment for depression (the intervention group) not only had fewer symptoms of depression, but also experienced less pain (5.62 vs 6.15), less interference with their daily activities due to arthritis (4.40 vs 4.99), less interference with daily activities due to pain (2.92 vs 3.17), and an improved sense of overall health and quality of life than the patients who did not receive treatment for depression (the usual care group).
How does this affect you?
The study found that among older adults who suffered from both osteoarthritis and depression, improving the quality of care they received for their depression benefited both their depression and arthritis. This finding is consistent with the notion that the perception of pain is highly subjective and influenced considerably by emotional states.
One possible explanation for this is that the neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and noradrenaline) commonly affected by antidepressant medications actually help reduce the number of pain signals being transmitted by the peripheral nervous system (the part of the nervous system outside the brain and spinal cord). It is also possible that the patients who received psychotherapy in this study learned steps to help them cope with their pain more effectively.
Based on the results of this study, the researchers recommend that, particularly in the primary care setting, physicians take a biosocial (psychological and physiological) approach to the management of arthritis. This includes screening for depression in all elderly patients with osteoarthritis.
According to the researchers, the benefits of this two-pronged approach may extend far beyond reduced pain levels and improved functional outcomes. It may actually help reduce the considerable public health burden presented by comorbid arthritis and depression in the elderly.
National Institute of Mental Health
Lin EHB, Katon W, Von Korff M, et al. Effect of improving depression care on pain and functional outcomes among older adults with arthritis. JAMA. 2003;290:2428-2434.
Osteoarthritis (OA). Arthritis Foundation.
Available at http://www.arthritis.org/conditions/DiseaseCenter/oa.asp
Accessed November 12,2003.
The numbers count. National Institute of Mental Health.
Available at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/numbers.cfm
Accessed November 12, 2003.
Last reviewed Nov 13, 2003 by
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