BACKGROUND: Stressors may differently affect human physiological systems according to the host properties relevant to psycho-behavioral processes that the stressors invoke. In a Japanese multicenter cohort study of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), we examined if major life events differently contribute to the patients' functional prognosis according to their ability to identify emotions as manifest feelings when encountering the events (emotional responsiveness).
METHODS: 460 patients with RA completed a self-administered baseline questionnaire about psychosocial factors including emotional responsiveness. Two years later, they checked on a list of positive/negative personal events that happened during the two-year study period. Rheumatologists evaluated their functional status at baseline and follow-up using the ACR classification system.
RESULTS: In a multiple logistic regression model that included baseline demographic, disease activity/severity-related, therapeutic, and socioeconomic factors as covariates, none of the counts of positive, negative, or all life events was associated with the functional status at follow-up. In the subgroup with poor emotional responsiveness, however, these life event counts were all associated with a poorer functional prognosis (odds ratio of ACR class 3-4 vs. 1-2 associated with one increment in the all life-event count = 2.39, 95 % confidence interval = 1.27-4.48, p = .007), while no such relationship was evident for the rest of the patients.
CONCLUSIONS: Major life events, whether positive or negative in nature, may have an impact on the disease course of patients with RA when the patient has poor emotional responsiveness to the event(s).