PTSD Linked to Greater Risk of Autoimmune Disorders

SAN FRANCISCO — Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) creates greater vulnerability to developing autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, according to University of California, San Francisco, researchers.

The research was presented last year at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ACNP) Annual Meeting in Hollywood, FL, late last year.1

Investigators led by Aoife O’Donovan and Thomas Neylan, MD, looked at the link between the diagnosis of PTSD and subsequent development of autoimmune disorders. Data from more than 673,000 individuals were used in the study, including all U.S. military veterans who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, were younger than 55 years old and received VA healthcare between late 2005 and early 2012.

The study noted that PTSD was diagnosed in nearly 210,000 of the veterans receiving treatment.

Researchers found that, compared with veterans with no mental health issues, those diagnosed with PTSD had significantly greater risk for subsequent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis and lupus, as well as other autoimmune disorders.

It also was noted that women had a higher risk for developing autoimmune disorders than men and that a PTSD diagnosis increased the risk even more.

“The finding is striking as the pattern of PTSD increasing the risk of autoimmume disorders was consistent across every disorder that we examined,” O’Donovan said.

Neylan added that “inflammatory autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis are often associated with higher incidence of higher cardiovascular disease and mortality rates. Therefore, it will be important to determine if, by treating symptoms of PTSD, we can reduce autoimmune disorders and risk of heart disease in veterans and other affected individuals.”

  1. O’Donovan A, Neylan T. (2012, December). PTSD Is Associated with an Increased Prevalence of Autoimmune Disorder. Poster #137. Presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology 2012 meeting, Hollywood, FL.

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