A Stress Link to Lupus

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Psychological trauma is associated with an increased risk for lupus, a new study reports.

Lupus is a potentially fatal autoimmune disease that causes inflammation of the skin, joints and internal organs. Its cause is unknown.

Researchers studied 54,763 civilian women enrolled in a larger health study. They used questionnaires to determine exposure to trauma, including serious car accidents and sexual assault, and examined medical records to find diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the 24 years of the study, they found 73 cases of lupus.

Compared to women without trauma, women with PTSD were almost three times as likely to have lupus. Exposure to trauma, even without having symptoms of PTSD, more than doubled the risk of developing the disease.

The study, in Preventive Medicine, controlled for oral contraceptive use, smoking, body mass index, physical activity, education and other characteristics.

“There is a lot of research showing that mental health, stress and trauma affect physical health and serious physical illnesses, like lupus,” said the lead author, Andrea Roberts, a research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Things going on in our minds really affect our physical health.”