The Statistical Connection
The Nurse’s Health Study revealed that women with four or more symptoms of PTSD are at a higher risk of developing RA. For these women, their RA risk factor is increased by 76 percent. Women exhibiting one to three PTSD symptoms had a 31 percent higher chance of having RA. Those with no symptoms but previous trauma exposure had an increased risk as well, with a 25 percent higher incidence of RA.
A study of twin pairs indicated that those with PTSD symptoms in the highest quartile were 3.8 times more likely to suffer from RA than those with symptoms in the lowest quartile. This study is notable for the fact that it provided adjustment for genetic and familial factors.
How PTSD Contributes to RA
PTSD and other conditions associated with depression and anxiety often exhibit physical symptoms. Pain can be one of these symptoms, establishing a connection between physical discomfort and PTSD. PTSD is widely associated with diseases associated with an immune response, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Patients who have both RA and PTSD experience faster disease progression and more severe RA symptoms, as well. Chronic PTSD is also associated with thyroid disease, psoriasis, and diabetes.
Where RA Increases Risk of PTSD
Patients who have RA have a higher risk of mental, emotional, and neuropsychiatric conditions. The ongoing pain and illness that these patients have to face is a major contributor to these types of problems. Battling a chronic illness takes a psychological toll that’s undeniable. If a patient is at an increased risk of PTSD due to traumatic events in his or her life, dealing with RA could heighten this risk level further.
Patients who have RA also tend to have more severe symptoms of PTSD. Though it’s unclear why this association occurs, it’s important to make a note of the heightened risk factor.
The Genetic Correlation
There is some evidence to suggest a genetic connection between patients’ risk factors for RA, PTSD, and other conditions. A higher allele count on particular genes is associated with an increased risk for PTSD. These same genes are associated with nicotine dependence, inflammatory mechanisms, sleep regulation, and substance misuse. This may explain why particular patients are more likely to smoke, struggle with anxiety, and have RA. There’s an overlap in their risk factors that contributes to an increased likelihood of struggling with these problems.
If you have or are at risk for having either RA or PTSD, it’s important to make a note of the association between the two. Work with your physician to identify any symptoms of burgeoning problems early so you can pursue the appropriate treatment.