The incidence of autoimmune disorders and stress is on the rise.
To explore why this is occurring Swedish investigators have collected a large amount of data with some very important results.
They looked at the 41 most common autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel diseases (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease), celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, and type 1 diabetes.
They analyzed 106,464 patients with diagnosed stress-related disorders and compared them with 126,652 full siblings. They compared the results with over a million non-stressed matched controls to assess the future risk of developing an autoimmune disease.
Results: The association of stress and autoimmune diseases
Overall after more than one year after diagnosis, they found an autoimmune disease rate of
9.1 per 1000 person-years in stress-exposed patients
6.5 per 1000 person-years in the sibling
6.0 per 1000 person-years in non- stressed individuals.
This means that those exposed to stress had a 2.5 to 3 fold increased risk of autoimmune disease compared to the general population.
What is the risk of an autoimmune disease?
Looked at another way, for all stress-related disorders the risk of autoimmune disease was increased by 36%.
For those with posttraumatic stress disorder there was a 46% increased risk for an autoimmune disease.
The risk was further increased for those less than 33 years of age.
This data shows that stress is a greater risk than family genetics in developing an autoimmune disease.
In this Swedish cohort, exposure to a stress-related disorder was significantly associated with increased risk of subsequent autoimmune disease, compared with matched unexposed individuals and with full siblings. From this study, it is not possible to say if reducing stress will lower the incidence of autoimmune disease as this is a separate question and one that was not asked. But from a wealth of other research, the benefits of reducing stress on health are well documented.
This study suggests that prevention and treatment of stress associated disorders do in all probability prevent illness.