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Rheumatology & immunology

Stress and autoimmune diseases: what is the correlation?

August 1, 2018

Is there a correlation between stress-related diseases and the development of autoimmunity, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammation of the intestines? Research offers important new insights and elements into the relationship between mental and physical conditions of patients, especially when they have suffered severe trauma. Dr. Carlo Selmi, Head of Rheumatology at Humanitas and Professor at the University of Milan, commented on the study published in Jama and developed by an Icelandic university.


Mind and body, the ancient binomial

It has long been known that mind and body are closely linked. The link between stress and the development of particular conditions is now well established but more recently is the search for a link between psychological conditions due to stress and autoimmune diseases, those in which the immune system attacks the organism with an excessive response, causing damage to different organs.


University of Iceland research on Swedish patients

The research coordinated by the University of Iceland focused on the analysis of data collected over the last 30 years on more than one million patients in Sweden. Out of these testers, 100,000 had received a diagnosis of mental disorders ranging from post-traumatic stress disorders to acute phases of prolonged stress and psychiatric illnesses. These individuals risked between 30 and 40% of receiving an autoimmune disease-related diagnosis, from a list of 41 diseases including Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease and type I diabetes.


Those who have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder are more at risk

According to the researchers, people who have been diagnosed with a post-traumatic stress disorder at a young age run the highest risk. However, this risk is reduced in cases where the problem has been rapidly diagnosed and treated with antidepressants and other solutions. The study, published in the journal Jama, clarifies that the research was carried out in an observational way, so you cannot draw conclusions about the causes, but only highlight the existence of correlations between stress and autoimmune diseases. In fact, it is not possible to exclude that stress may derive from the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease and it is necessary to point out that the patients considered suffered from stress disorders well beyond the normal levels that most of us face every day.

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