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Rheumatol Int. 2006 Jul;26(9):828-36. Epub 2005 Dec 9.

Psychological distress and personality traits in early rheumatoid arthritis: A preliminary survey.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Medical School, University of Ioannina, 45110 Ioannina, Greece.



To investigate psychiatric manifestations, personality traits, and ego mechanisms of defense involved in early rheumatoid arthritis (RA).


Twenty-two unselected early RA outpatients with disease duration less than 1 year participated in the study. The majority of participants were females (72.7%), married (81.8%), aged 51.0+/-14.6 years. Thirty-four subjects matched for age, sex and educational level served as "healthy" controls. General Heath Questionnaire, Symptom Distress Checklist, Defense Style Questionnaire and Hostility and Direction of Hostility Questionnaire were used; disease activity was estimated by disease activity for 28-joint indices score.


Seven patients (31.8%) presented psychological distress scores indicative of possible psychiatric caseness, expressing obsessive-compulsive symptoms and depression, as compared to six (17.6%) of controls. Social dysfunction distress and somatization were prominent psychiatric manifestations in early RA group. Early RA patients tend to adopt a less adaptive defense style than controls. Although disease activity was not correlated to psychological distress, a significant association between disease activity and patients' defensive style was observed: as the disease is exacerbated, there was a shift from "non-adaptive" to "immature image distorting or borderline" defense style, suggesting a rather fragile underlying personality structure.


Psychological distress is a relatively common experience in early RA. Social dysfunction, along with the less adaptive defense style, which under the stress of the disease exacerbation turns to "borderline", underlines the importance of a careful assessment and consultation in early RA patients in order to face the distress shortly after diagnosis and highlights potential risk factors for future adaptation to exacerbations of the disease.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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