Field research on the relationship between stress and disease activity in rheumatoid arthritis

Alex J. Zautra, Nancy A. Hamilton, Phillip Potter, Bruce Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


We review empirical evidence from two field studies for the role of stressful life events in disease flare-ups among patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA patients were expected to be more vulnerable psychologically, and physiologically, to stressful events in their everyday lives than other arthritis patients without an autoimmune disease. Findings from two studies are reviewed both for their substantive contribution, but also to provide guidance on measurement issues in future field research of this kind. One study included 41 patients with RA, who were interviewed weekly and called to a clinic for blood work and joint examinations when their levels of interpersonal stress increased significantly. A second study used a similar design but included comparison samples of patients with osteoarthritis (OA) and healthy controls of similar age and the same gender as the RA sample. The findings provided support for the proposition that interpersonal stressors are predictive of increases in disease activity. Not all RA patients, however showed these relationships, and there was evidence that some participants with OA who were depressed also showed higher disease activity following interpersonal stressors. Significant individual differences in the stress-disease relationship were uncovered that deserve greater attention in future studies. Important improvements in the assessment of stressful events and refinements in panel study design are also presented as guides to research on the role of stress in disease processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)397-412
Number of pages16
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
StatePublished - 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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