Stress is a serious threat to our well-being. It can keep us from sleeping at night, negatively impact gut health, and even put a damper on the otherwise-joyful summer season. Adding to scientific evidence backing up the physical repercussions of stress is a new study, which found severe cases can actually lead to autoimmune diseases.
From 1981 to 2013, researchers examined more than 106,000 patients aged 33 to 50 in Sweden with diagnosed stress disorders (PTSD, acute stress disorder, adjustment disorder, and more), and more than 1.1 million people without them, including about 127,000 siblings of the diagnosed participants. The findings, which were published in the journal JAMA, showed that people with these types of severe stress had a 36 percent higher chance of developing one or more of 41 autoimmune diseases—the name for a range of conditions in which the immune system starts attacking itself and healthy cells—including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease. And unfortunately, the researchers says women are more likely to have autoimmune diseases than men are—particularly black, Hispanic, and Native-American women, according to Medical Xpress.
People with types of severe stress had a 36 percent higher chance of developing one or more of 41 autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease.
“Patients suffering from severe emotional reactions after trauma or other life stressors should seek medical treatment due to the risk of chronicity of these symptoms and thereby further health decline, such as the increased risk of autoimmune disease,” co-author of the study Huan Song, MD, PhD, of the University of Iceland, says.
The good news is that when people with stress-related conditions sought treatment (like, for example, prescribed anti-depressants), especially within the first year of their diagnosis, they were able to lower their risk of developing an autoimmune disorder. This suggests that curbing symptoms of stress can reverse the growing likelihood of contracting an autoimmune disease.
Additionally, though the study indicates a strong relationship between stress disorders and autoimmune diseases, the study doesn’t illustrate causality. Because of this, researchers say further studies are necessary.
Since millennials are more burnt out than ever, it’s important that doctors continue to study the long-term effects stress has on the body. In the meantime, make sure you’re leaving aside plenty of time for restorative self-care.
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