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PLoS One. 2019 Feb 20;14(2):e0211343. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0211343. eCollection 2019.

Depression and anxiety in patients with different rare chronic diseases: A cross-sectional study.

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Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.
Department of Medical Psychology, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.
1st Department of Medicine, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.
Martin Zeitz Center for Rare Diseases, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Hamburg, Germany.



Empirical evidence on depression and anxiety in patients with rare diseases is scarce but can help improve comprehensive treatment. The objectives of this study were to investigate the frequency of depression and anxiety in this heterogeneous population and to examine aspects associated with increased psychopathology.


N = 300 patients with 79 different rare diseases (female:80%, age:M = 44.3(12.8), range:16-74 years) participated in a cross-sectional online study. We determined the percentages of patients reporting elevated depression (PHQ-9) and anxiety (GAD-7) scores. We calculated two linear regressions with depression and anxiety as outcomes. Predictor variables were diagnosis-related aspects (diagnosis assigned to ICD-10 chapter, visibility of symptoms, time since diagnosis, comorbid diseases), perceived somatic-symptom-severity (PHQ-15), illness-perceptions (consequences, control, identity, concern, understanding and treatment control; B-IPQ-R), coping mechanisms (constructive attitudes, active engagement in life) and social support (heiQ). We controlled for gender, age and depression or anxiety depending on the outcome.


42% of the patients (95%CI [36.41%,47.59%]) reported depression scores indicating moderately or severely elevated symptom levels. Regarding anxiety, this applies to 23% (95%CI [18.54%,28.06%]). Variables significantly associated with depression were higher perceived somatic-symptom-severity (B = 0.41,p < .001), less control (B = .17,p < .05), lower levels of concern (B = -0.32,p < .01) and less constructive attitudes (B = -1.40,p < .001). No diagnosis-related variables were associated with depression. Variables significantly associated with anxiety were diseases of the circulatory system compared to congenital malformations (B = 1.88,p < .05), less consequences (B = -0.32,p < .05) and more concern (B = -0.32,p < .01).


The data reveal first insights into depression and anxiety in patients with different rare diseases. High percentages of patients showed clinically relevant symptom burden. No diagnosis-related differences were found in depression while anxiety seems to be particularly frequent in patients with rare diseases of the circulatory system. Besides perceived somatic symptom severity, cognitive appraisal seems to be linked to depression. Supporting patients in coping with their disease may help reduce psychopathology and therefore improve overall health.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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