Autoimmune Disease and Mental Health

Patients who have autoimmune disorders are at an increased risk for having psychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety and depression. While experts have yet to agree on a single explanation, patients with an autoimmune disorder should be aware of the potential impact their condition can have on their mental health.

It’s estimated that autoimmune diseases affect more than 24 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health. Living well with an autoimmune disease means being aware of how autoimmunity may impact your mental health and vice versa.

Rheumatologists Nathaniel Neal, MD, and Rebekah Neal-Kraal, MD, at Valerius Medical Group & Research Center, are dedicated to improving the lives of people living with inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. As top rheumatology researchers, Drs. Neal and Neal-Kraal want to increase patient awareness of the emerging link between autoimmune conditions and mental health.

Understanding autoimmune diseases

An autoimmune disease is a condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages its own tissues. In patients with autoimmune disorders, the immune system produces antibodies directed against the body’s cells. Common autoimmune disorders diagnosed and treated here at Valerius Medical Group & Research Center are:

In each of these conditions, the immune system attacks certain organs and tissues. Symptoms vary depending on the areas of the body affected. The exact cause of autoimmune diseases remains unclear. However, a combination of genetic and environmental factors are likely involved.

Autoimmune diseases and their effect on mental health

You’re more likely to experience psychiatric symptoms if you’ve been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. Immune disorders have been linked to:

Symptoms can range from mild to severe enough to significantly impact your day-to-day life. There are certain mechanisms by which an autoimmune disease may raise the risk of developing a mental health disorder, and they include:

Inflammatory response

Chronic inflammation underlies autoimmune disorders. Inflammation is part of the immune process meant to protect the body from infection and foreign organisms. However, with autoimmune diseases, this normally protective inflammatory response becomes activated abnormally, causing damage to the body’s tissues.

Substances involved in the inflammatory response, such as pro-inflammatory cytokines, are linked to depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders. In fact, higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines are associated with the severity of psychiatric symptoms.

Antibody response

In some cases, it’s possible for the immune system to produce antibodies against parts of the central nervous system that play a key role in mood and cognition. This may cause neurocognitive changes, such as irritability, personality changes, depression, and even psychosis.

Managing mental health can improve autoimmunity symptoms

The mind and body maintain a two-way connection. In this sense, conditions that affect the body may have an impact on how you think and feel. Likewise, your thoughts and feelings can impact autoimmune disease symptoms. In fact, according to a large study, feeling depressed can actually worsen autoimmune symptoms.

Research suggests that you shouldn’t ignore depression, anxiety, and other mental health symptoms. Treating and improving these symptoms may in turn improve your autoimmune symptoms. Additionally, effectively managing your autoimmune disorder may improve mental health symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.

For more information on our patient-centered approach to treating autoimmune disease, book an appointment online or over the phone with Valerius Medical Group & Research Center today.

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