The Role of Chronic Stress in Autoimmune Disease

Is there a link between chronic stress and autoimmune disease? Can being chronically stressed cause an autoimmune condition?

What the Research Says

A 32-year long study conducted by researchers in Sweden revealed that chronic stress may be the culprit behind many autoimmune conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Researchers behind the study analyzed over 100,000 people diagnosed with stress-related disorders, such as acute stress reactions and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and compared them with their siblings, and with over a million unrelated individuals who did not have stress-related disorders.

The study found that participants who were previously diagnosed with a stress-related disorder developed autoimmune conditions at a higher rate than those who did not have a stress-related disorder.

In addition, the study also found that those who suffered from stress-related disorders were more likely to develop multiple autoimmune diseases (as opposed to just one), and had a higher rate of autoimmune disease the younger that they were.

Impact of Stress on the Immune System

Although this study doesn’t necessarily prove that chronic stress triggers autoimmunity, it is proven that stress can negatively impact your body’s immune system.

For example, when stressed, the hormone-producing glands in your body release adrenaline and cortisol into the bloodstream. This, in turn, activates immune cells, which leads to the production of inflammatory proteins called cytokines. While cytokines play an important role in the body’s immune system, the overproduction of cytokines can result in painful and inflammatory conditions, including autoimmune disease.

How to Combat Stress

To combat stress, Dr. Vedrana Tabor, a Hashimoto’s patient herself, suggests getting a good night’s rest, as sleep has a restorative impact on your body and can help maintain a lower stress level. Reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking, as well as improving one’s diet, are important, as malnutrition will amplify the negative effects of stress.

Getting regular exercise can also reduce stress by boosting your body’s production of mood-enhancing neurotransmitters called endorphins. Practicing mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, have also shown to work well for the majority of people.

In addition, the Swedish study referenced above found that in patients with stress-related disorders that were being actively treated using an SSRI (a type of anti-depressant), the increased chance of developing an autoimmune disease was less dramatic, suggesting that seeking treatment for mental health issues could have a protective benefit.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re going through stress at work, school, home, or other aspects of your life, don’t just accept chronic stress as part of your life—actively take steps to combat it. Doing so can not only protect you from developing an autoimmune disease (or developing more, if you already have one), but also have a huge positive impact on your overall health and well being.


If you enjoyed this article, check out my last article, 10 Facts about Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE).

7 thoughts on “The Role of Chronic Stress in Autoimmune Disease

  1. Positively Alyssa March 31, 2019 / 7:28 am

    WOW, this was an absolutely brilliant and amazing post with SO much valuable information! I want to thank you so very much for what you have shared!! I have struggled with stress for as long as I can remember and when I was 19 I was diagnosed with MS. I am not saying that stress caused me to have MS, but it might make sense. I also do know how much stress can affect the MS in a terrible way! I am really looking forward to reading more of you fabulous posts!!


    • Isabel March 31, 2019 / 1:53 pm

      Thank you Alyssa for the lovely comment. I had a similar experience to you- I started experiencing symptoms of autoimmune disease at age 19, but I wasn’t officially diagnosed until 20. Chronic stress can definitely impact your health, and it’s so important to keep it in check. Thanks again for stopping by; I always enjoy reading your blog posts as well!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Positively Alyssa March 31, 2019 / 3:41 pm

        You are more than welcome Isabel! I am sorry that you and I have experiencing symptoms so early in life. It is definitely important to never give up and let our illness control us. MS will never define who I am and I know yours will never define you either!

        I am doing my best to control my stress, but honestly I fail every time! My two main sources of stress include my mother and husband. My mother has struggled with alcoholism for my entire life and my husband hasn’t work in over a year. It is so difficult for everything to be put on me with both of these people. I am trying to teach myself that I can’t fix everyone’s problems and can’t change their bad decisions. I am really looking forward to reading more of your fabulous posts, but please forgive me if I am slow with reading and commenting. Working full-time isn’t easy, so I do most of my blogging on the weekends now. I do try to do some during the week, but I can’t seem to catch up!

        Liked by 1 person

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