A Link Between Trauma and Autoimmune Disorders

A recent New York Times article explores a study on a link between Lupus and stress. One of the authors of the study, Andrea Roberts, is a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Roberts explains, “There is a lot of research showing that mental health, stress and trauma affect physical health and serious physical illnesses, like lupus. Things going on in our minds really affect our physical health.”

The study showed that, compared to women without trauma, women with PTSD from serious accidents or sexual assault were almost three times as likely to have lupus as the general population. Exposure to trauma, even without having symptoms of PTSD, more than doubled the risk of developing the disease, and PTSD has also been associated with other autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases.

Research has shown that people with two or more highly stressful or traumatic childhood incidents are at a 70-100% increased risk for hospitalizations with autoimmune diseases. Stressful incidents in adulthood have less of an effect than these childhood traumas, however a majority of people diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder reported abnormally high levels of stress immediately before diagnosis. The theory is that stress hormones have created havoc in the immune system, which then begins to attack the body’s tissues.

Because stress creates a chronic fight-flight-or-freeze state, heart rate and cortisol release increase. This leads to inflammation, the key symptom of Lupus, making diagnosis difficult from other stress-related disorders. And to make matters worse, the stress of dealing with serious symptoms creates a cycle that can be difficult to heal.

This study seems to indicate that treating PTSD can reduce the risk of disease in the body. It shows a stronger correlation between a mental health issue and a physical disease than any other risk factors, including smoking or obesity.

Research of this kind can help us understand the mind/body connection more clearly, creating healing on all levels

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