Editors' ChoiceMedicine

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

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Science Translational Medicine  21 Jul 2010:
Vol. 2, Issue 41, pp. 41ec117
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001485

Grandparents frequently prognosticate about the weather by how badly their joints ache because of osteoarthritis (OA). They may not realize, however, that the severity of their joint pain may be linked to their emotional state. Osteoarthritis, the wearing down of the cartilage that cushions the bones of our joints, is quite common in elderly persons over 60 years old and can result in disabling pain. Depression is also a relatively common condition for the elderly and can worsen health conditions such as heart disease and hypertension. Previously, no connection between depression and OA pain has been explored. In a clinical study of the elderly, Wise et al. examined any possible link between depression and OA-induced joint pain.

In a cross-sectional study, elderly subjects approximately 65 years old were recruited from around the United States with either hip or knee osteoarthritis. The subjects were monitored for 12 weeks, during which they were interviewed about the levels of their depression and joint pain. These observations revealed a correlation between depression and intense OA pain and appeared to increase the risk of an OA flare-up or attack of extreme joint pain. Subjects that treated their depression reported less OA joint pain. Although this study cannot address the causal relationship between depression and arthritis pain, mental health may present a new avenue for treating OA. It may be that treating grandma and grandpa’s joint pain will involve making sure that they do not worry and be happy, as well as take their medications.

B. L. Wise et al., Psychological factors and their relation to osteoarthritis pain. Osteoarthr. Cartilage 18, 883–887 (2010).[Abstract]

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