Can Stress Cause Rheumatoid Arthritis?

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Stress is not only about mental or psychological problem because it can affect you physically, too. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a systemic joint condition. Systemic means that it can cause symptoms outside of the joint or affect other parts of the body. Is there a link between RA and stress?

Effects of stress on the body!

RA can affect both males and females. But in general, the risk is higher in women since it occurs more often in women (almost three times as many women involved than men). And some evidences show that women are relatively easier to have stress, too.

image_illustration294Actually stress is a part of the body response to any stressors such as tight schedule, traffic jam, relationship problems, waiting at the post office for long hours, etc. Many of us can experience these stressors every day.

When you experience a stressor, your body responds by stimulating and activating chemical messengers. The chemical message begins in the major part of the brain called hypothalamus. Together with pituitary gland, hypothalamus eventually stimulates the adrenal glands to make stress hormones such as cortisol, norepinephrine, and adrenaline.

In women, stress can affect the balance of hormones, causing some problems. For instances, it can affect menstrual periods, the chance of getting pregnant, the health of pregnancy, and so on.

Poorly-controlled stress could contribute to cause decreased performance of body immune system, too. Even sometime it may trigger shoulder, neck, or back pain.

Stress can be a trigger of some health conditions. It also can worsen many conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis.

And the physical effects of stress can vary. For in-depth information about the effects of stress on the body and mind, see this section!

Can stress cause RA?

If you have chronic condition such as RA, you can have additional stressors. The flare-up of stiffness in the involved joint (typically it strikes in the morning) can be very bothersome.

Other symptoms like painful and swelling joint could be potential to affect you daily routines and keep you up at night. All these things can lead to ‘stress overload’.

Furthermore, stress in RA also could come from some of the following factors /conditions:

  1. The inflammation of RA can be widespread, causing fatigue. And this symptom can make you stress easier.
  2. Another psychological problem, especially such as depression. In fact, people with RA are also at greater chance of having depression and anxiety.
  3. Your RA may affect your self-esteem, too!
  4. Other things that can bring more stress along with RA may include; altered finance (typically due to becoming unemployment), problems of social life (financial problem and limited range of motion of the affected joint can contribute to affect the relationship with others),

Overall, there is a chance for both stress and RA to make vicious cycle. Symptoms and difficulties of chronic RA will bring more stress. Then stress can worsen the symptoms. And worsening symptoms are the trigger to make more stress!

It seems that both conditions can affect each other. In people who already have RA, stress may trigger the flare-up to recur. But the most challenging issue, can it cause RA?

Experts don’t exactly know yet whether stress has a role to cause RA, though some evidences show that it might have a role. They only know exactly that it can worsen the RA symptoms.

Since the connection between the body and mind is real, some experts appreciate the linkage between the disease onset and stress. It’s also clear that immune, endocrine, and nervous system are linked, too.

The connection may come from partly chemical reactions. During stressful period, chemical messengers overwhelm the brain and body. Some of these messengers may activate the production of other chemicals that trigger inflammation.

Overall, if you have any arthritis form, it’s very important to control your stress as well! If you do believe that your stress has an effect on your RA, the following tips can help!


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