Objective: This trial was performed to evaluate the efficacy of an adjunctive cognitive-behavioral treatment compared with rheumatological treatment alone in unselected rheumatoid arthritis outpatients.
Design: A prospective randomized control design was used. Change in medication during treatment was controlled by matching therapy- and control-group subjects according to this change in medication, sex, age, duration of disease, and functional class.
Setting: A rheumatological outpatient clinic, University of Goettingen, Germany.
Patients: Fifty-five consecutive outpatients with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis (age 52.7 years, 74.5% female, duration of disease 9.4 years) finished the study.
Interventions: Subjects received routine care by the rheumatologists and routine medical treatment. Cognitive-behavioral treatment subjects (n = 19) received adjunctive standardized cognitive-behavioral group treatment with 12 weekly sessions.
Outcome measures: Outcome measures included disease activity variables, pain variables (pain intensity, affective pain), psychological symptoms, and coping.
Results: Subjects mostly demonstrated an increasing disease activity during treatment; change in medication during treatment was necessary in some patients. In the cognitive-behavioral treatment group the course of rheumatoid arthritis seemed less progressive than in the control group. The core effects of cognitive-behavioral treatment pertain more to improved coping, emotional stabilization, and reduced impairment than to reduced pain intensity. Passive, emotion-focused coping, helplessness, depression, anxiety, affective pain, and fluctuation of pain are reduced, "Acceptance of Illness" is improved.
Conclusions: Cognitive-behavioral therapy has proven an effective adjunct to standard treatment of rheumatoid arthritis outpatients. These effects were shown in an unselected sample with increasing disease activity and with comparable changes in medication during treatment. We recommend cognitive-behavioral treatment as an desirable adjunct to standard medical treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.