Updated 18 January 2017

Arthritis increases suicide

Patients with arthritis acknowledge having thoughts of suicide twice as often as people without arthritis, Greek researchers have reported.

"Suicidal ideation is prevalent among adults with arthritis and should be carefully evaluated by physicians," advise the authors of the report in Arthritis Care & Research, which appeared online.

To investigate the association between arthritis and suicidal ideation, Dr Maria Tektonidou, with the National University of Athens, and colleagues analyzed data on US adults aged 40 and older with arthritis who participated in the 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

Suicidal ideation was assessed, based on response to the NHANES question, "Over the last two weeks how often have you been bothered by the following problem: thoughts that you would be better off dead, or of hurting yourself in some way?"

The authors note that while the question doesn't ask specifically about thoughts of attempting suicide, it's been used in the past to assess suicidal ideation and it's less likely to lead to non-response than a more specific question.

The difference in numbers

While 2.4% of people without arthritis reported suicidal ideation, that rate was 5.6% in people with arthritis.  The researchers say the prevalence is similar to what's been found in diabetics, 6.8% and cancer patients,  5.1%.

Arthritic patients with suicidal thoughts were more likely non-white, had lower education levels, were poorer, and had higher frequencies of mental health care visits, current smoking, binge drinking, anxiety and pain. They also had more comorbidities, sleep disturbances, depression, and limitations in activities of daily living, according to the report.

On the other hand, suicidal ideation was generally lower among those with longer duration of arthritis, older age, higher income, more close friends, more frequent light drinking, and more education.

The researchers found that 11 of the top 16 correlates of suicidal ideation in patients with arthritis also applied to patients with diabetes and cancer.

Summing up, Dr Tektonidou and colleagues conclude, "Depression and short duration of arthritis, binge drinking, income, and the presence of more than three comorbidities identified subgroups at greatest risk for suicidal ideation that should be the focus of prevention and intervention approaches."

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Suicidal ideation



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Professor Asgar Ali Kalla completed his MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 1975 at the University of Cape Town and his FRCP in 2003 in London. Professor Ali Kalla is the Isaac Albow Chair of Rheumatology at the University of Cape Town and also the Head of Division of Rheumatology at Groote Schuur Hospital. He has participated in a number of clinical trials for rheumatology and is active in community outreach. Prof Ali Kalla is an expert in Arthritis for Health24.

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