Autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis, are a group of disorders in which your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body. These diseases can be debilitating and can affect multiple organ systems, making them difficult to manage.
Interestingly, recent research has suggested that there may be a link between stress-related disorders and the development of autoimmune diseases.
Stress-related disorders extend beyond just being stressed out from work or other daily dramas. They are a group of conditions that develop in response to traumatic or stressful events.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is probably the most well-known stress-related disorders, but there are others, such as acute stress reaction, adjustment disorder, and other stress reactions.
These disorders are characterized by symptoms such as flashbacks, avoidance behaviors, and feelings of guilt or shame. These symptoms can greatly impact a person’s quality of life and make it difficult for them to function in their daily lives.
Stress Disorders and Autoimmune Diseases
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that there is a significant association between stress-related disorders and the risk of subsequent autoimmune disease.
The study included 106,464 patients with stress-related disorders, 126,652 of their siblings (to compare similar genetic profiles), plus another 1,064,640 unmatched individuals with no known stress-related disorders.
The results of the study showed that a clinical diagnosis of stress-related disorders was significantly associated with an increased risk of autoimmune disease. This suggests that stress-related disorders may be a substantial risk factor for the development of autoimmune diseases.
Other Possible Causes
While the study provides strong evidence for an association between stress-related disorders and autoimmune disease, it is important to consider other possible factors that may contribute to this association.
One potential confounding variable is genetics, as certain genetic variations may increase the risk of both stress-related disorders and autoimmune diseases. The study included full siblings of individuals with stress-related disorders, which provides some control for genetic factors, but it’s not perfect as it is not possible to rule out the influence of other genetic or environmental factors that siblings may share.
Additionally, environmental exposures, such as exposure to toxins or certain infections, may also contribute to the development of both stress-related disorders and autoimmune diseases.
Another important factor to consider is the role of unhealthy stress coping mechanisms. Severe and long-lasting chronic stress tends to lead to risky behaviors such as substance abuse or smoking, which may increase the risk of developing autoimmune diseases. These maladaptive coping mechanisms can further suppress the immune system and contribute to chronic inflammation, and may potentially lead to autoimmune disease.
Why This is Good News
Despite the limitations of this study, the findings are noteworthy because they suggest that treating stress-related disorders may have the potential to reduce the risk of autoimmune diseases. Participants who received treatment for stress-related disorders, with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), for example, experienced a reduced risk for autoimmune diseases.
Further research is needed to better understand the underlying mechanisms, but this insight could have a significant impact on the lives of those who suffer from either or both of these conditions.
If you are struggling with either a stress-related disorder or an autoimmune disease, consult with your doctor about different treatment options that may be able to help.