Objective To examine the longitudinal association between coping and psychological distress in rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods Bibliographic databases up to July 2010 were searched for longitudinal studies with a follow-up of ≥6 months. Two reviewers assessed the methodological quality of the included studies. Study characteristics, coping strategies and coping-psychological distress associations were extracted. Coping strategies were categorised using a hierarchical taxonomy. A best-evidence synthesis determined the level of evidence for a prognostic association of coping with depression, anxiety and general distress.
Results From an initial set of 2605 potentially relevant studies, 19 studies (14 cohorts) met the predefined selection criteria. In all, 10 studies were of ‘high quality’ (≥12 of 18 quality criteria). Unadjusted bivariate correlations showed that baseline approach-oriented coping correlated with lower psychological distress (r between 0.007–0.46, p values <0.05) and baseline avoidant-oriented coping correlated with higher psychological distress (r between 0.29–0.64, p values <0.05) at follow-up. Adjusted for baseline psychological distress, limited evidence was found that avoidant-oriented coping was longitudinally associated with an increase in psychological distress. Specifically, the categories helplessness, avoidance and wishful thinking were prognostically associated with increased general psychological distress. Approach-oriented coping was not associated with subsequent psychological distress.
Conclusions The prognostic value of coping strategies for later psychological distress in RA is weak. Limited evidence suggests that avoidant-oriented coping is associated with increased subsequent psychological distress. No evidence was found that approach-oriented coping protects against an increase of psychological distress.
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