Objective: To assess the effect of a meditation training program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), on depressive symptoms, psychological status, and disease activity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) through a randomized, waitlist-controlled pilot study.
Methods: Participants were randomized to either an MBSR group, where they attended an 8-week course and 4-month maintenance program, or to a waitlist control group, where they attended all assessment visits and received MBSR free of charge after study end. Participants received usual care from their rheumatologists throughout the trial. Self-report questionnaires were used to evaluate depressive symptoms, psychological distress, well-being, and mindfulness. Evaluation of RA disease activity (by Disease Activity Score in 28 joints) included examination by a physician masked to treatment status. Adjusted means and mean changes in outcomes were estimated in mixed model repeated measures analyses.
Results: Sixty-three participants were randomized: 31 to MBSR and 32 to control. At 2 months, there were no statistically significant differences between groups in any outcomes. At 6 months, there was significant improvement in psychological distress and well-being (P = 0.04 and P = 0.03, respectively), and marginally significant improvement in depressive symptoms and mindfulness (P = 0.08 and P = 0.09, respectively). There was a 35% reduction in psychological distress among those treated. The intervention had no impact on RA disease activity.
Conclusion: An 8-week MBSR class was not associated with change in depressive symptoms or other outcomes at 2-month followup. Significant improvements in psychological distress and well-being were observed following MBSR plus a 4-month program of continued reinforcement. Mindfulness meditation may complement medical disease management by improving psychological distress and strengthening well-being in patients with RA.