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Intense Stress And Autoimmune Diseases: Trauma May Raise Risk Of Immune System Disorders

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People who experienced trauma or intense stress could be at higher risk of developing an autoimmune disease, findings of a new study suggest.

Stress Disorders And Autoimmune Diseases

Huan Song, from the University of Iceland in Reykjavik, and colleagues compared people who had stress disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, adjustment disorders, and acute stress reaction with their sibling and people in the general population without these conditions.

They found that stress was linked to 36 percent increased risk of developing 41 autoimmune diseases, which include psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease and celiac disease.

"In this Swedish register-based retrospective cohort study that included 106 464 patients with stress-related disorders, 1 064 640 matched unexposed individuals, and 126 652 full siblings, exposure to a clinical diagnosis of stress-related disorders was significantly associated with an increased risk of autoimmune disease," Song and colleagues wrote in their study.

Many studies have found a link between stress conditions and adverse childhood events such as neglect and trauma to future medical problems, which include immune problems.

A 2009 study, for instance, found that people who experienced two or more traumatic childhood events have twice the risk of developing the rheumatic disease than those who did not experience childhood trauma.

It isn't clear why stress can increase odds of developing the autoimmune disease but there are possible explanations.

Stress may directly impact the nervous system or may influence lifestyle that can lead to getting less sleep, as well as increased alcohol or drug use.

Treatment May Reduce Risk For Autoimmune Diseases

The researchers said that people suffering from severe emotional reaction following a trauma or other life stressor should consider seeking medical treatment. The researchers said that treating stress-related disorders may help reduce a person's odds of developing autoimmune diseases.

Treating patients who are suffering from PTSD with antidepressants, for example, may reduce their risk for autoimmune diseases, particularly when taken in the first year after diagnosis.

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

Autoimmune Diseases

The immune system protects the body from diseases and infection, but autoimmune diseases cause the body's natural protection to turn against itself by attacking healthy cells.

Although it is not clear what causes autoimmune diseases, these conditions often run in families. Women, particularly those who are Hispanic, Native-American, and black tend to have increased risk for some autoimmune diseases.

The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on June 19.

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