An examination of individual differences in the relationship between interpersonal stress and disease activity among women with rheumatoid arthritis



Objective. The effects of interpersonal stress on disease activity were examined for married women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who differ in the quality of their relationships with their spouses.

Methods. Measures of interpersonal events were collected weekly for 12 weeks and related to disease activity through a comparison of clinician ratings and immune markers taken at baseline and during a highly stressful week for 20 RA patients. Individual differences in marital relationship variables and illness characteristics were used to predict group differences in how stress affected disease activity.

Results. Significant elevations in total T cell activation (DR + CD3 cells), soluble interleukin-2 receptor (sIL-2R), and clinician's global ratings of disease activity were found during a week of significant interpersonal stress. However, women with better spousal relationships did not show increases in disease activity following an episode of interpersonal stress. In addition, patients taking low-dose prednisone showed greater reactivity to stress than patients not currently using glucocorticoid treatment.

Conclusion. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that disease activity in RA increases following increases in interpersonal stress and that women with stronger marital relationships were less vulnerable to those stressors.