A January 2023 study by German researchers suggests that your risk of developing an autoimmune disease is increased after catching COVID-19.
The study included over 38 million participants, approximately 640,000 of whom had contracted the COVID-19 virus, and the remainder being the control group. The study examined the likelihood that an individual would develop one of 30 autoimmune diseases after being infected with COVID-19.
The results of the study found that after being diagnosed with COVID, patients were 43% more likely to go on to develop an autoimmune disease. The most common autoimmune diseases that developed post-infection were: Rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, Graves’ disease, and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Study participants who had contracted COVID-19 were also more likely to develop, but to a lesser extent, one of: psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, ulcerative colitis, multiple sclerosis, celiac disease, alopecia, and vitiligo.
Study participants who already had an autoimmune disease faced a 23% increased risk of developing an additional autoimmune condition after COVID-19 infection, as compared to those who didn’t get the virus.
This German study adds to the body of research being conducted about COVID-19’s lasting impact on health outcomes. ‘Long COVID’, as it’s been called, can result in neurological problems, breathing difficulty, cardiovascular issues, digestive problems, and more. Now, autoimmune disease may be another outcome to add to the ever-growing list of long COVID health issues.
The results from this German research study on the connection between autoimmune disease and COVID-19 infection shouldn’t be a surprise. The risk of developing autoimmunity after a viral infection has been well documented in the past, such as the connection between the Epstein-Barr virus and autoimmune conditions like multiple sclerosis. It’s believed that through a process called molecular mimicry, viruses are able to deflect attacks from the host’s immune system, by confusing immune cells, and causing them to target healthy tissues instead.
COVID-19 patients have anecdotally shared their experiences battling autoimmune conditions after an initial coronavirus infection. Famed singer and musician Christopher Cross, for example, spoke out about his battle with Guillain-Barre syndrome after being infected. Children were also shown to be developing a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MICS) after getting COVID, which often proved to be worse than the virus itself.
For more information on COVID-19 and autoimmune disease, check out this blog post on COVID-19 vaccination and products that may help in your battle against COVID if you’ve already caught the virus.