Mental Health and Axial Spondyloarthritis

Living with a chronic illness or disease can be taxing, both physically and mentally. Those with chronic medical conditions and chronic pain have a higher risk of depression than those who do not have such conditions.1 Approximately one-third of all individuals with a chronic illness or condition have symptoms of depression.2 While addressing the physical part of your AxSpA spectrum disease is crucial, it’s also important to take care of your mental health and any associated needs, as well.

AxSpA, anxiety, and depression

AxSpA spectrum conditions and depression are associated with each other, although it can be challenging to get exact prevalence data.3 Prevalence of depression across the AxSpA spectrum (including nr-AxSpA as well as r-AxSpA and AS) ranges from 11 to 64 percent.3 Higher rates of depression were seen with higher levels of disease severity and lower functioning.3 Exact numbers are not known, and more research needs to be done about mental health, depression, and AxSpA spectrum conditions.

Chronic pain has been associated with anxiety, as well.4 Like depression, symptoms of anxiety may be underreported to physicians in those with chronic pain disorders or chronic illness, so it’s hard to know exact numbers.

Depression and anxiety are treatable, however, and it’s important to take care of your mental health just like you would your physical health.

Symptoms of depression

When living with a chronic health condition, you may not be aware that some of your symptoms may actually be signs of a mental health issue. Symptoms of depression can include:2

  • Depressed mood and/or loss of interest or pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Appetite and/or sleep disturbances
  • Concentration problems
  • Fatigue
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of anxiety

It can be easy to brush off feelings of being anxious as just little quirks or feelings about your condition, but anxiety is a mental health condition that can be treated. Symptoms of generalized anxiety can include:5

  • Feeling restless or on-edge
  • Irritability
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Muscle tension

Treating mental health issues with axial spondyloarthritis

Early diagnosis of mental health issues leads to earlier treatment, which can help relieve symptoms and help you feel a lot better. Mental health and physical health are so intertwined, and it’s important to treat your whole person. Talk with your doctor about any mental health symptoms you may be having, and don’t be afraid to be honest. It doesn’t mean your weak or that there’s something “wrong.” Treating depression or anxiety can even improve your physical health and overall medical condition.2

There are various ways depression and anxiety can be treated:2.5

  • Medications (antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, beta blockers)
  • Talk therapy (There are some counselors, psychologists, or psychiatrists that specialize in dealing with chronic pain)
  • Support groups
  • Stress management techniques (deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation)
  • Patient education about the disease and coping skills

Many times, treatment involves more than one of these in order to provide optimal benefits. Your doctor will discuss how each of these treatments can help you, and together you can work on finding what works for your situation.

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Written by: Jaime Rochelle Herndon | Last reviewed: May 2020