BACKGROUND: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) considerably impacts patients' mental health. However, it is largely unclear how people suffering from RA experience psychological stress beyond depression or anxiety, and what drives stress in these patients.
OBJECTIVE: To examine the impact of RA on psychological stress, as follows: 1) How is stress defined and described in studies on RA? 2) Do patients with RA experience more stress than the general population or people suffering from other chronic conditions? 3) What are risk factors for developing stress in this context?
METHODS: We systematically searched EMBASE, PubMed, Web of Science Core Collection and Cochrane Library for English language peer-reviewed reports published up to 19 April 2020. Eligible studies included any measure or definition of psychological stress as an outcome in patients with RA. Data were extracted on patient and study characteristics, instruments used to measure stress and predictors of stress, and were summarized descriptively. Study quality was assessed with the MINORS or AXIS-tool for longitudinal and cross-sectional studies, respectively.
RESULTS: Among 11.115 potentially relevant studies, 16 studies were included. Remarkably, 13 different instruments to measure stress were reported in these studies. Different types of stress experienced by patients with RA included role stress, social stress, and work stress. Work stress and social stress, particularly resulting from interpersonal stressors, were reported as more prevalent in patients with RA compared to healthy controls. Stress at disease onset appeared more pronounced in patients with RA compared to people suffering from osteoarthritis, while psychological stress was reported as higher in patients with chronic pain syndromes compared to patients with RA. More disability, more pain, less social support, lower income, younger age and personality traits like excessive worrying, pessimism, and sensitivity to anxiety, seemed to increase the risk for higher stress levels.
CONCLUSIONS: This scoping review is, to our knowledge, the first to address the important heterogeneity of the measurement tools and definitions of psychological stress in RA research. This review could provide a basis to standardize the concept of stress in people suffering from RA, with a view to proposing tailored stress-reducing interventions.