Study Reveals Increased ADHD Risk in Children Born to Mothers with Autoimmune Disease

Australian researchers have found a potential link between ADHD in children and maternal autoimmune disease. Image courtesy of Kids’ Health.

An Australian study has found a potential link between autoimmune disease and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The study took place over a decade, from 2000 to 2010, following more than 63,000 children born at full-term in New South Wales, Australia. Study author Timothy Nielsen, a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, said that they were able to identify 12,610 mothers who had one or more of 35 common autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, Sjogren’s or rheumatoid arthritis, to name a few. The children were identified as having a diagnosis of ADHD, or a prescription for stimulants.

The study also included a meta-analysis of existing research on this topic. The combined results of the longitudinal study and the meta-analysis found that when the mother had a diagnosis of any autoimmune disease, [this was] associated with a higher risk of ADHD in their child at later ages.

While researchers don’t know the exact reason why women with autoimmune disorders are more likely to have children with ADHD, researchers do have a hypothesis. It’s believed that maternal autoantibodies, which attack the mother’s own tissues, cross the placenta into the unborn fetus during pregnancy. Inflammatory molecules, therefore, could potentially do the same. These molecules could, in turn, alter fetal brain development, either by altering epigenetic markers, which turn certain genes on or off, or by impacting the function and formation of synapses, which allow nerve cells to communicate.

Nielsen explained, “These changes may lead directly to ADHD symptoms, or they may make the child more vulnerable to environmental risk factors.” He continued, “Our team is currently working on research into the causal mechanisms that underlie the association between autoimmune disease and ADHD, which may shed light on whether the severity of disease, symptoms, use of medications or other inflammatory factors modifies the risk of ADHD.”

This is the first study that explores the correlation between maternal autoimmune disease and the risk of ADHD in children. Other research has shown a link between autoimmune disease in mothers and other neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), tics and Tourette’s syndrome.

Read the original study published in JAMA Pediatrics here: Association of Maternal Autoimmune Disease with ADHD in Children.

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Autoimmune Disease & Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral Neuropathy is a common complaint among autoimmune patients. Image courtesy of the Southern Regional Pain Services.

Did you know that autoimmune disease can cause debilitating nerve pain and other nervous system difficulties?

Many medical professionals are unaware that autoimmune conditions can cause a variety of neurological symptoms, or neuropathies, in patients. Though it is commonly known that autoimmune diseases are responsible for joint pain and other kinds of inflammation, nerve pain is often overlooked.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, peripheral neuropathy refers to conditions that involve damage to the peripheral nervous system, which is the vast communication network that sends signals between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and other parts of the body. Research has shown that over 20 million Americans suffer from some form of peripheral neuropathy, of which there are over 100 known unique types!

How can autoimmune disease cause peripheral neuropathy?

Systemic autoimmune diseases that impact the entire body can cause peripheral neuropathy because of the impact these diseases have on one’s nerves. Conditions like Type 1 diabetes, lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis can all cause nerves to become compressed or entrapped as a result of inflamed surrounding tissues.

Some autoimmune diseases aren’t systemic, or body-wide, but rather, target the nervous system directly. For example, in autoimmune conditions like Guillain-Barre, multiple sclerosis (MS) and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), the immune system may go after the motor nerves, motor fibers, or the myelin sheath coating the nerves. In other instances, the small fibers are attacked, resulting in ongoing chronic pain.

How does peripheral neuropathy manifest?

Peripheral neuropathies can manifest for different people in different ways. For example, rather than a sharp, jabbing, throbbing pain, for some patients it may feel more like prickling, tingling, burning, numbness, or even a complete loss of sensation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, peripheral neuropathy can also make you feel like you’re having a sensation that you’re not; for example, feeling like you’re wearing gloves or socks when you’re not. Peripheral neuropathies can also cause you to feel pain for activities that you know shouldn’t cause pain, such as pain in your feet after they’re underneath a blanket.

What you can do about your autoimmune nerve pain

Medical Interventions

If you have autoimmune nerve pain, don’t suffer in silence. Talk to your primary care physician and see if they can refer you to a neurologist or chronic pain specialist. From there, your physician can help put together a treatment plan to ease your pain.

I have Sjogren’s syndrome and for a period of 7+ years, chronic pain was a regular part of my life. My rheumatologist prescribed me all kinds of joint pain medications, from plaquenil (generic name: hydroxychloroquine) an anti-malarial drug, to prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid medications, and even chemotherapies! It wasn’t until my pain was identified as nerve pain, not joint pain, that I was able to switch to a medication that worked to reduce my peripheral neuropathy.

In addition, I worked with a neurologist to determine that I had a co-morbid condition, called benign fasciculation syndrome, which was also contributing to my pain. This is important, because many chronic pain sufferers have co-morbidities, like fibromyalgia, which can increase your pain levels or even be the real driving force behind it.

Lifestyle Considerations

Beyond medications, your lifestyle is also an important component of reducing your neuropathic pain. Vitamin deficiencies, for example, have been identified as a cause of peripheral neuropathies. This is because certain B vitamins, including vitamins B1, B6 and B12, as well as vitamin E and niacin, are crucial for maintaining nerve health. Since alcoholism can result in serve vitamin deficiencies, avoiding substance abuse is also key.

Exposure to certain toxins or poisonous substances, such as lead and mercury, can also impact your nerves and cause resulting pain. Finally, trauma and pressure on the nerves can cause neuropathies as well, so alleviating pressure on your nerves, such as decreasing repeated motions on the parts of your body experiencing pain, is important.

Do you have an autoimmune condition(s) and suffer from peripheral neuropathy? What do you do to cope with your chronic pain? Let us know in the comments below!

American Family to Immigrate to Canada After Type 1 Diabetes Diagnosis

The Reseburgs have applied to immigrate to Canada as a result of their daughter’s medical diagnosis. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Amanda Reseburg and her husband of Janesville, Wisconsin, have applied to immigrate to Nova Scotia, a province in Atlantic Canada. While Reseburg has always admired the region’s coastal views, the beautiful scenery is not the reason for her family’s desire to move.

Reseburg’s nine-year-old daughter, Molly, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune condition in which the body’s own immune system destroys insulin-producing cells, called islets, in the pancreas. Consequently, the body produces little to no insulin, an important hormone that enables glucose to enter cells and produce energy. Symptoms of the condition can include fatigue and weakness, blurred vision, unintended weight loss, extreme hunger, increased thirst and frequent urination, among other complications.

The family is hoping that by moving to the Canadian province, they will receive better insurance coverage and more affordable insulin. Reseburg says her daughter takes six to 10 needles a day of long-acting and short-acting insulin. She is also using a continuous glucose monitoring system, which monitors her blood sugar levels and must be replaced every 10 days.

Reseburg says they have been fortunate thus far- their family has medical coverage through her husband’s employment. However, given the current state of the economy and how closely medical insurance is tied to employment in the United States, she wonders what would happen if he were to lose his job.

Nine-year-old Molly Reseburg was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease impacting her insulin levels. Photo courtesy of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).

Another consideration is that once their daughter becomes an adult, she may no longer be eligible to be on their insurance coverage. Reseburg said, “I don’t want to tell my kids, ‘Go find a good office job.’ I want them to be able to do what they want to do, and not have to worry about insurance.”

The affordability of insulin is another concern. While she has never had to go across the border to buy insulin, she understands why people do it. “I don’t see America getting on board [affordable insulin] any time soon, so that’s why we’re looking to move,” she explained.

Reseburg has also been frustrated with the lack of consumer choice with her daughter’s medication. Several months ago, her insurance company informed her that they would no longer be covering the insulin her daughter currently takes, and would be switching her to a new type of insulin instead. “We don’t get any say in that whatsoever. They decide what insulin they will allow us to have,” she lamented.

This is particularly concerning due to the fact that her daughter Molly also suffers from a chromosomal condition called Turner syndrome, which impacts the effectiveness of the insulin she takes. And, not only was the type of insulin changed, but the insurance company is covering $75 less, resulting in the family having to pay even more out of pocket for this necessary treatment.

The family has retained an immigration lawyer to help them with their Canadian immigration application. On top of attorney fees, the immigration fees cost several thousand dollars, plus extensive paperwork detailing how the family will be able to adapt to their new country and how they plan to contribute to the economy. The mountain of paperwork is worth it, however, since the family says that if their application is successful, their daughter’s insulin will be covered and she’ll no longer be at the mercy of their insurance company.

While it usually takes about two years to immigrate to Canada, the COVID-19 situation could draw out the process even longer. Nevertheless, the family is hopeful that their plan will pan out. “We’ll get their eventually,” Reseburg said.

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