Severe stress may send immune system into overdrive

June 19, 2018 by Steven Reinberg, Healthday Reporter

(HealthDay)—Trauma or intense stress may up your odds of developing an autoimmune disease, a new study suggests.

Comparing more than 106,000 people who had stress disorders with more than 1 million people without them, researchers found that stress was tied to a 36 percent greater risk of developing 41 autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn's and celiac disease.

"Patients suffering from severe emotional reactions after trauma or other life stressors should seek medical treatment due to the risk of chronicity of these symptoms and thereby further health decline, such as the increased risk of autoimmune disease," said lead researcher Dr. Huan Song, from the University of Iceland in Reykjavik.

The body's immune system protects you from disease and infection. But autoimmune diseases turn the body's natural protection against itself by attacking healthy cells.

It's not clear what causes autoimmune diseases, but they tend to run in families. Women, particularly black, Hispanic and Native-American women, have a higher risk for some autoimmune diseases, the researchers said.

Song added that treating stress-related disorders may help reduce the risk of developing autoimmune diseases.

"There are now several treatments, both medications and cognitive behavioral approaches, with documented effectiveness," she said.

For example, treating patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may help lower the risk for autoimmune disease, especially when taken in the first year after diagnosis, Song said.

But she cautioned that because this is an observational study, it's not possible to prove stress causes , only that the two are linked.

In the study, Song's team looked at patients in Sweden diagnosed with stress such as PTSD, acute stress reaction, adjustment disorder and other stress reactions from 1981 to 2013. The researchers compared these individuals with siblings and people in the general population not suffering from a stress disorder.

The effects of severe stress have been associated with a variety of health problems, one PTSD expert said.

"Many studies have linked as well as adverse childhood events, such as trauma and neglect, to future medical problems, including immune problems," said Mayer Bellehsen. He directs the Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families at Northwell Health in Bay Shore, N.Y.

"It is also notable that when people received effective treatment, their risk was lessened," he added.

Although it isn't known why stress can increase the chances of developing an autoimmune disease, Bellehsen suggested several possible explanations.

These include the impact of stress on lifestyle—for example, getting less sleep or increased drug or alcohol use. Stress might also directly affect the nervous system, he said.

"Regardless of cause, this study adds to the evidence of the link between stress conditions and physical well-being, warranting further attention to the reduction of trauma and other causes of conditions, as well as improving treatment of these conditions," Bellehsen said.

The report was published June 19 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Explore further: PTSD linked with increased lupus risk

More information: Huan Song, M.D., Ph.D., University of Iceland, Reykjavik; Mayer Bellehsen, Ph.D., director, Unified Behavioral Health Center for Military Veterans and Their Families, Northwell Health, Bay Shore, N.Y.; June 19, 2018, Journal of the American Medical Association

For more on stress and health, visit the American Psychological Association.

Related Stories

PTSD linked with increased lupus risk

September 20, 2017
In a study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, trauma exposure and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in civilian women were strongly associated with increased risk of developing lupus, an autoimmune disease.

Explainer: what is lupus and how is stress implicated?

April 3, 2018
Thanks to Selena Gomez and Dr. House, most of us have heard of lupus. But most of us don't know what it is, and until recently, none of us were sure whether stress could be a risk factor.

Increased prevalence of depression, PTSD and medical conditions among military personnel who experience trauma

May 7, 2018
Service members who experience trauma, including sexual trauma, during their service are at increased risk of major depressive disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic medical conditions, according to new ...

Here's how stress may be making you sick

January 10, 2018
A Michigan State University researcher is providing new insight into how certain types of stress interact with immune cells and can regulate how these cells respond to allergens, ultimately causing physical symptoms and disease.

Ketamine not linked to PTSD in military trauma setting

October 17, 2017
(HealthDay)—Ketamine administration is not associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the military trauma setting, according to a study published online Oct. 3 in Anaesthesia.

Cellular stress increases the probability of developing autoimmune diseases

June 14, 2017
A team of researchers led by Marc Veldhoen at the Instituto de Medicina Molecular (iMM), Lisboa, has found that cellular stress enhances the activation of immune cells implicated in many chronic inflammatory conditions, increasing ...

Recommended for you

New inflammation inhibitor discovered

November 16, 2018
A multidisciplinary team of researchers led from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have developed an anti-inflammatory drug molecule with a new mechanism of action. By inhibiting a certain protein, the researchers were able ...

Pets can double as asthma antidote

November 16, 2018
(HealthDay)—The "hygiene hypothesis" holds that early exposure to a variety of microorganisms may decrease the risk for chronic inflammatory diseases, like asthma.

New study shows NKT cell subsets play a large role in the advancement of NAFLD

November 16, 2018
Since 2015 it has been known that the gut microbiota could have a direct impact on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which affects up to 12% of adults and is a leading cause of chronic liver disease. In the November ...

Defense against intestinal infection in organism is affected by prostaglandin E2

November 15, 2018
The treatment of intestinal infections caused by some strains of the bacterium Escherichia coli, present in unsanitized or contaminated foods, may have a new ally.

No link between 'hypoallergenic' dogs and lower risk of childhood asthma

November 15, 2018
Growing up with dogs is linked to a lower risk of asthma, especially if the dogs are female, a new study from Karolinska Institutet and Uppsala University in Sweden shows. However, the researchers found no relation between ...

Researchers finds better ways to improve the chances of survival of children with a rare immune deficiency

November 15, 2018
An international study published in the journal Blood by researchers led by Dr. Elie Haddad, a pediatric immunologist and researcher at CHU Sainte-Justine and professor at Université de Montréal, highlights the urgent need ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.