Is There A Connection Between Autoimmune Disorders And PTSD?

Stress can have a significant impact on the body. While some stress is normal, longer-term stress can impact everything from muscle tension to the reproductive system to digestion, according to the American Psychological Association. And research shows that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a serious mental health condition, might be connected to the development of autoimmune disorders (via Healthline).

PTSD is a disorder that occurs in some people after experiencing a traumatic event (via National Alliance on Mental Illness [NAMI]). Those with a PTSD diagnosis experience symptoms long after the trauma has passed, such as distressing memories, bad dreams, avoidance of reminders of the event, difficulty remembering, depression, trouble sleeping, and anger outbursts. In the U.S. 3.6% of adults are diagnosed with PTSD, and 37% of those have severe symptoms. It's more common in women than men, and children can be diagnosed with PTSD, as well. It's also common for PTSD to co-occur with other disorders, such as depression or anxiety.

The link between PTSD and autoimmunity

A 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) explored the connection between PTSD and autoimmune disorders, as severe stress can impair the immune system (via Healthline). When we're stressed, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that helps to regulate the immune system. But when we experience extreme stress, the body might not make as much cortisol or could become resistant to it, resulting in increased inflammation and an impaired immune system.

Researchers analyzed data from 106,464 patients diagnosed with stress-related disorders. They compared this with data from 126,652 of their siblings, along with 1,064,640 people without a disorder. They discovered that those with stress-related disorders were at higher risk of developing an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn's disease. While the research shows that there's a link between the two, rather than explaining if one might cause the other, it's still significant.

There's no cure for PTSD, so proper management of the condition is important (via NAMI). Treatment typically includes psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and at-home stress management techniques, such as mindfulness and self-soothing.