Childhood Abuse May Increase Risk of Lupus in Later Years
A new study finds that childhood trauma may contribute to the development of lupus. Researchers assessed a group of more than 67,000 women and used the Physical and Emotional Abuse Subscale of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire to measure each person’s experience of physical and emotional abuse during childhood. Those who had experienced a high level of childhood abuse had a nearly three-fold greater risk of developing lupus than those who reported the lowest level of abuse or no abuse.
Exposure to serious stressors early in life may affect immune function and promote inflammation, potentially increasing the risk of developing an autoimmune disease like lupus. Previous research has found that childhood adversity is linked to an increased risk of chronic disease and mental illness, and stress-related disorders like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been associated with an increased risk of autoimmune disease later in life.
Candace H. Feldman, MD, ScD, member of the Lupus Foundation of America Medical-Scientific Advisory Council and Karen H. Costenbader, MD, MPH, chair of the Council, which plays a critical role in advancing lupus research, science, care and advocacy, are authors on the study. Dr. Feldman notes, “it is important to both consider strategies to prevent childhood abuse and additionally, to screen our patients for experiences of childhood trauma. We should also consider evaluation and treatment for depression and PTSD, as this may reduce risk of autoimmune disease.”
Though this study was limited to a female and predominantly white population, it adds further evidence that exposure to severe childhood stressors increases the risk of autoimmune disease and underscores the importance of developing both prevention strategies and support programs for those who have been abused. While there are genetic and environmental risk factors for lupus that cannot be controlled, people living with this disease have the power to support their wellbeing in many ways.
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