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).

10 Facts About Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage the body’s vital organs, skin and joints. Read on to find out 10 facts about this chronic autoimmune condition.

1. It is more common than you think

Lupus affects 5 million people worldwide, and 16,000 new cases are reported every year, reports the Lupus Foundation of America. In the United States alone, lupus is estimated to affect up to 1.5 million people. The exact prevalence of lupus among the general population is hard to determine, however, since the symptoms often mimic those of other disorders. For reasons unknown, lupus has become 10 times more common in industrialized Western countries over the last 50 years.

2. It mostly affects women

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Females develop lupus nine times more often than their male counterparts. It is more common in younger women, peaking during the childbearing years; however, 20 percent of lupus cases occur in people over age 50. Because lupus largely impacts women, sex hormones are thought to play a role in the onset of this complex disease.

3. Your ethnicity may play a role

In the United States, lupus is more common in people of color, including those of African, Asian, Hispanic/Latino, Native American or Pacific Islander decent. In these populations, lupus is known to develop at a younger age and tends to be more severe as well.

4. Skin problems are a telltale sign

One of the characteristic signs of lupus is a red rash across the cheeks and nose bridge, which worsens when exposed to sunlight, called a ‘butterfly rash’ due to its shape. Other skin problems include calcium deposits under the skin, damaged blood vessels in the skin, and tiny red spots called petechiae, which occurs as a result of bleeding under the skin. Ulcers may also occur in the mucosal lining of the skin. To read more about how lupus affects the skin, click here.

5. Heart problems are also common

Pericarditis, an inflammation of the sac-like membrane around the heart, and abnormalities of the heart valves, which control blood flow, can occur in patients with lupus. Heart disease caused by fatty buildup in the blood vessels, called atherosclerosis, is more prevalent in those with lupus than the general population. To read more about how lupus affects the heart, click here.

6. Lupus affects the nervous system too

A lesser known fact about lupus is its impact on the body’s central nervous system. For example, lupus causes damaging inflammation, which may result in peripheral neuropathy, which involves abnormal sensations and weakness in the limbs. Lupus can also cause cognitive impairment, also called ‘brain fog’, which makes it difficult to process, learn and remember information. Seizures and stroke may also occur.

7. It may be genetic

Lupus tends to run in families. However, the exact inheritance pattern is unknown. Certain gene variations can increase or decrease the risk of developing the disease; however, not everyone with the disease will get lupus. Relatives of those with lupus have a 5-13% chance of developing the disease. Sometimes, someone with a family member with lupus may inherit a different, but related, autoimmune disease, such as Sjögren’s Syndrome or Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

8. Lupus can impact one’s quality of life

According to research conducted by the Lupus Foundation of America, 65% of lupus patients state that chronic pain is the most difficult part of having the disease. Furthermore, 76% of patients say that the disease has caused them to develop fatigue so severe that they have had to cut back on social activities. A further 89% of patients report that they can no longer work full-time as a result of their disease. Lupus can also cause mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

9. The prognosis of the disease varies

Patients with lupus often have episodes during which the condition worsens (called ‘exacerbations’ or ‘flares’), followed by periods of remission. However, since lupus does not currently have a cure, it is a life-long condition. Lupus is known to get worse over time, and damage to the body’s vital organs can be life-threatening. This is why it is important to work with a team of medical professionals that understand the disease.

10. There is hope

If you or a loved one has been newly diagnosed with lupus, check out the Lupus Foundation of America’s newly diagnosed webpage. It is full of resources about the disease, including treatment options, financing your care, and tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle with the disease. You can also sign up for their 8-week email series with tips and resources to empower you to learn more about your condition. The foundation also recently released a new research center on their website, Inside Lupus Research, so that you can keep up-to-date on all of the latest scientific reports, disease management and treatment news.

Thank you for stopping by Autoimmune Warrior. If this article was helpful for you, please like, share, and comment below!

 

Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of Feb. 20, 2019

Lupus Strongly Linked to Imbalances in Gut Microbiome

Scientists at the NYU School of Medicine have discovered that systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is strongly linked to imbalances in the body’s gut microbiome.

The study showed that 61 women diagnosed with lupus had five times more Ruminococcus gnavus gut bacteria compared to 17 women who were healthy and did not have lupus. The study also showed that the abnormal levels of gut bacteria appeared to positively correlate with lupus ‘flares’, which are instances when lupus symptoms, such as joint pain, skin rashes, and kidney dysfuntion, increase dramatically.

Dr. Gregg Silverman, immunologist and one of the lead researchers in the study, commented, “Our study strongly suggests that in some patients bacterial imbalances may be driving lupus and its associated disease flares.”

Dr. Silverman also stated that the study may give way to new treatments for the disease, such as probiotics, fecal transplants, or dietary regimens that prevent the growth of the Ruminococcus gnavus gut bacteria. The study also discusses the role of ‘leaky gut’ in triggering the body’s autoimmune reaction.

To read more about the study, click here.

Immunology ‘Boot Camp’ Emphasizes the Role of Chronic Stress in Autoimmune Disease

Leonard Calabrese, Vice Chairman of rheumatic and immunologic disease at the Cleveland Clinic, emphasized the role of chronic stress in the development of autoimmune diseases during an immunology ‘boot camp’.

During his speech, Calabrese cited data that chronic stress compromised the body’s surveillance of pathogens. As a result, modern stressors, such as PTSD, major depression, and the stress associated with being a caregiver, which are chronic in nature, may trigger the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease. This is in contrast to acute stress, which comes in response to immediate dangers, ‘like our ancestors encountering a saber-toothed tiger’, states Calabrese.

The link between chronic stress and autoimmunity has given way to the development a several new therapies. For example, parasympathetic and vagal nerve stimulation are now in development to treat pain-related and autoimmune conditions, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and fibromyalgia.

To read more about this research, click here.

Interested in reading more? See last week’s top news in autoimmunity here.

Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of Feb. 13, 2019

Benefit Event Organized for New York Woman with Scleroderma

A benefit event has been organized by the friends of Krislyn Manwaring, a 25-year old woman with Scleroderma living in Erin, NY.

Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition that causes the body’s soft tissue to harden. Manwaring, who is now on oxygen, is in need of a stem cell transplant. However, her health insurance won’t pay for it.

The benefit event will raise funds to go towards Manwaring’s transplant procedure. According to the event’s Facebook page, over 200 attendees have already RSVP’d for the event.

Young Woman Shares Journey with Autoimmune Encephalitis

Tori Calaunan, a young woman from Las Vegas, shares her journey with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis with the Autoimmune Encephalitis Alliance.

While in nursing school, Calaunan felt some weakness in her right leg, but brushed it off as nothing serious. As the weakness continued to worsen, she also experienced confusion and dizziness. She passed a neuro test and MRI, however, and doctors told her that everything was fine.

She eventually checked into the ER, and stayed there for a month before transferring to a hospital in California, where she finally received her diagnosis of Autoimmune Encephalitis.

Family of Young Man with Rare Autoimmune Disease Outraged Over Drug Price Hike

Will Schuller, from Overland Park, Kansas, was 18 when he began experiencing extreme weakness. An avid runner, he was pulled out of high school when he struggled to walk down the hall, and stopped being able to go up the stairs.

He was eventually diagnosed with Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS), a chronic autoimmune disorder than affects muscle strength. LEMS is reported among 3,000 people in the US, and can dramatically impact one’s quality of life.

Schuller was prescribed a drug called 3,4-DAP, which made him feel better instantly. The drug was free as a result of an FDA program called ‘compassionate use’. The drug’s manufacturing rights, however, were sold to a company called Catalyst, which renamed the drug Firdapse, and raised the price to $375,000/year for the medication.

Schuller’s family decried the extreme price hike, stating that if it hadn’t been for this medication, their son would certainly be in a wheelchair. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont called the price increase a ‘fleecing of American taxpayers’.

Schuller is now a senior studying mechanical engineering at the University of Tulsa. Read more about his story here.

Interested in reading more? See last week’s top news in autoimmunity here.

Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of Feb. 6, 2019

Early Onset Primary Sjögren’s Syndrome May Carry a Worse Prognosis

French researchers have discovered that patients diagnosed with early onset Primary Sjögren’s Syndrome may carry a worse prognosis over the course of the disease. Early onset is defined as a diagnosis before age 35.

The study, reported in Rheumatology, states that early onset of this autoimmune disease was found to be associated with a higher frequency of:

  • Salivary gland enlargement
  • Lymph node enlargement
  • Bleeding underneath the skin
  • Liver involvement
  • ANA (antinuclear antibodies, especially anti-SSA and anti-SSB antibodies)
  • Positive Rheumatoid Factor levels
  • Low C3 and C4 complement protein levels
  • Increased levels of immunoglobulin antibodies in the bloodstream

Furthermore, researchers also acknowledged that those with an early onset of the disease showed a worsening progression in their symptoms, whereas those with a later onset showed significant improvement.

Read more about this ground-breaking study here.

’90 Day Fiancé’ Star Ashley Marston to Undergo Additional Surgery Following Kidney Failure

Ashley Marston, star on TLC’s hit reality TV series ’90 Day Fiancé’, recently revealed that she is undergoing additional surgery following a health scare.

Although she did not reveal the nature of her impending surgical procedure, Marston did reveal that she has an autoimmune condition called lupus. Lupus is a disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks its vital organs. In Marston’s case, she suffers from lupus nephritis, which causes inflammation in the kidneys.

After being found unresponsive in her home last month, she was rushed to the hospital and treated for kidney failure. Her upcoming surgery is speculated to be related to this recent hospitalization.

Fans are wishing Marston the best with her surgery and recovery. Read more about her shocking story here.

Interested in more #autoimmunewarrior news? Visit my last news post, here!

Working with a chronic illness

Working with a chronic health condition can be a challenge. Sometimes, you may not feel ‘up to’ working, but you still have to put in a full day on the job. There are times when you feel sick— but perhaps not sick enough to warrant taking a sick day. Even if you do take time off, there may be judgments from co-workers that don’t believe that what you’re going through is real, especially invisible illness symptoms, such as pain.

When looking back through my life, I can see various ways in which my chronic illness, Sjögren’s Syndrome, has impacted my work. For example, I experience significant joint pain after doing hours’ worth of typing. Also, the stale office air worsens my dry eye and mouth symptoms, causing me to use copious amounts of eye drops and saliva-stimulating medications. Also, debilitating fatigue affects my energy levels and impacts my ability to produce as much as I want to.

As a result, I have had to adjust my lifestyle in order to stay healthy and maintain my productivity while on the job. Here are a few tips that have helped me:

  • Getting a good night’s rest – Before being diagnosed with Sjögren’s, I could get 4-5 hours of sleep per night, and still be productive and alert throughout the day. But no more. I must get at least 7-8 hours’ worth of solid rest to help combat against disease-related fatigue.
  • Being mindful of my eating habits – With a chronic health condition, I need to be extra mindful of what I’m putting into my body. While others may be able to sustain themselves on caffeine and sweets- I know that doing likewise isn’t going to make my body feel any better; so I pack a healthy lunch, and choose the healthy option when I eat out.
  • Organizing my treatment plan – I think it’s extremely important to be organized when you have a chronic illness. For example, I record my doctor’s appointments on my calendar and stay on top of taking my medications and supplements, which it vital to treating my symptoms.
  • Staying active – Exercising, while also holding down a job and managing my chronic illness, can be a challenge. However, I know it’s important to stay active, because it makes my body stronger and more resilient, and I’m able to complete tasks using less energy as a result. So, I go to the gym and take walks around my neighborhood and in the business park on my lunch break at least a few times a week.

When you have to leave your job

I recently started following a YouTuber by the name of Samantha Wayne. In her YouTube channel, called Live, Hope, Lupus, she discusses having to leave her full-time job as a result of her autoimmune condition. You can check out the video here.

Having to leave a job due to health reasons can be devastating. In addition to the financial benefit of having a job, many individuals (especially Americans) rely on their job to pay at least partially for their costly health insurance premiums. I have found that there is also a psychological benefit to having a job; it gives me confidence, makes me feel like I am ‘valuable’ and helping others, and feel like I am a productive member of society. Although one shouldn’t rely solely on a job for their self-esteem, I do believe that it’s a contributing factor.

In Samantha’s case, she transitioned to several part-time business and work opportunities in order to earn a living, and have more time and flexibility to manage her lupus and Sjögren’s symptoms. Exploring other work alternatives, such as freelancing, part-time and contract work, or starting your own business, might be an ideal way to balance both your health and financial commitments.

Final Thoughts

If you are finding it challenging to keep up with managing both your chronic health condition, work and other life demands, I would encourage you to implement the tips above to see if it makes a positive difference. Don’t let your disease get in the way of accomplishing your dreams and goals!

How do you manage your chronic illness while working? Has your health impacted your ability to do your job? Do you have any additional health management tips? Comment below!

 

Top News in Autoimmunity – Week of Jan. 2, 2019

American Teacher in Thailand Paralyzed by Rare Autoimmune Disease

Caroline Bradner, a 22-year old recent graduate from the University of Mississippi, was left paralyzed after developing a rare autoimmune disease while teaching English at a Thai school.

She was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) shortly before Christmas. Since then, she has been paralyzed from the neck downwards and is unable to move.

Her family reports that she has a long road to recovery ahead, and has even started a GoFundMe page to help with medical costs, including disability-related transportation, hospitalization, and rehabilitation fees, after Caroline’s insurance claims were denied. The fund has since surpassed its $70,000 goal.

Guillain-Barré syndrome affects 1 in 100,000 people each year, and its affects can be devastating. Read more about Caroline’s harrowing story here.

Scripps Researchers Find Molecular Cause of Autoimmune Disorders

Scientists at Scripps Research have found a molecular cause for a rare group of autoimmune disorders. Patrick Griffin, PhD, professor and co-chair of the Department of Molecular Medicine at Scripps Research, explains that the discovery has improved scientists’ understanding of the role of the interferon protein in the development of several autoimmune conditions. The autoimmune diseases included in the study were:

Singleton-Merten Syndrome (SMS)
Aicardi-Goutières Syndrome 
Familial Chilblain Lupus
Proteasome Associated Autoinflammatory Syndromes

The scientists demonstrated through their study how mistakes in the body’s molecular proofreading system can lead to out-of-control interferon protein signaling, thereby inducing the above autoimmune disorders.

Read more on the Science & Technology Research News website.