Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia cause a negative body image perception in women, according to research. The findings come from the National Institutes of Health, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease characterized by chronic inflammation and joint pain. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread chronic musculoskeletal pain, stiffness, and numbness. Both conditions can negatively affect a person’s quality of life limiting their daily functioning. Women are known to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia at higher rates than men.
The study evaluated body image perception in women with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Phone interviews were conducted with 27 women – 11 had fibromyalgia, 10 had rheumatoid arthritis, and six had both.
Five main body image perception topics were addressed in the phone interviews: pain, weight, disease-induced fears, disease impact on physical and mental function, and coping measures. All participants reported pain, but other addressed concerns were aversion to and shame of the visibly affected body parts, weight gain, as well as disease-induced social, psychological, and physical limitations.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients reported the belief that redness and swelling of their joints guaranteed their rapid diagnosis and treatment. Fibromyalgia patients reported that lack of visible symptoms resulted in inadequate medical attention, which delayed healthcare treatment leading to anger and frustration. Popular coping mechanisms were meditation and prayer.
The team concluded that rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia result in negative body image perception, and there was a strong focus on how the disease impacted their self-identity, mental function, activity limitations, healthcare experience, and quality of life.
Addressing body image perception can help create tactics for disease management and improve quality of life.
Living with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia
Living with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia can pose a great challenge as both conditions cause pain and limit one’s abilities. A patient may feel trapped in their own body as they simply can’t perform certain tasks the way they used to. Living in pain can even take a heavy toll on a person’s mental health, too.
Although either condition can exist on its own, the two are often seen together as well. The reason for this connection is still unclear, but it has been noticed that rheumatoid arthritis patients are at a higher risk of fibromyalgia – yet the connection doesn’t seem to appear in the reverse.
Some scientists believe that chronic pain from rheumatoid arthritis can change the way nervous system perceives pain, creating a heightened sensitivity. As a result, rheumatoid arthritis patients start experiencing increased allover pain because they are more sensitive to it.
If you are struggling with both conditions, there are some things you can do to manage them simultaneously. For starters, getting proper sleep is crucial – not only because it supports overall good health, but also because the lack of sleep can increase pain sensitivity. Managing your daily pain levels is also important because, according to research, worsening pain in rheumatoid arthritis will trigger fibromyalgia pain. Lastly, take care of your emotional health. It is well known that depression increases pain sensitivity, so pain might feel much worse if you are depressed. Having a strong support system or reaching out to a therapist can help you manage your mental health as well.
Working closely with your doctors to properly manage your conditions can help keep either one at bay and allow you to improve your overall quality of life.