Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Can Be One of the Causes for Autoimmune Disease

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Can Be One of the Causes for Autoimmune Disease

A study conducted on 120,572 individuals, members of US army personnel, revealed that people who have PTSD are 60% more likely to develop an autoimmune response than those who don’t have a history of PTSD.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder

It is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event. Traumatic events can be considered: sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, child abuse, or other threats to a person’s life. Higher rates may occur in regions of armed conflict. It is more common in women than in men.

Symptoms generally begin within the first three months after the inciting traumatic event, but may not start until years later. Symptoms may include disturbing thoughts, feelings, or dreams related to the events, mental or physical distress to trauma-related cues, attempts to avoid trauma-related signals, alterations in how a person thinks and feels, and an increase in the fight-or-flight response. Anxiety, ruminations, irritability, aggression, suicidality, and impulsivity are common -Anhedonia, apathy, impaired attention, and motor deficits; sometimes psychosis, agitation, and restlessness. PTSD symptoms include re-experiencing the assault, numbness, and increased startle response.

Autoimmune disease

An autoimmune disease is a condition arising from an abnormal immune response to a healthy body part. The body rejects one of its organs like it would with a foreign virus. Somehow, the brain perceives part of the body is the enemy and instigates the autoimmune system to annihilate it. There are at least 80 types of autoimmune diseases. Nearly any body part can be involved.

Common symptoms include low-grade fever and feeling tired, and they often come and go. Some common diseases that are generally considered autoimmune include celiac disease, diabetes mellitus type 1, Graves’ disease, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and systemic lupus erythematosus.

The study Boggs Bookwalter et al., 2020

A previous study found that people diagnosed with stress-related conditions had a higher predisposition to develop autoimmune diseases. The new research focused on ES military personnel. The 120,572 people that got involved in the research had to meet two requirements: to have been serving in active duty, when completing the baseline survey, and not to be diagnosed with prior autoimmune conditions when enrolled in this study.

8 to 9 % of them were subsequently diagnosed with PTSD. The ones developing the syndrome proved to be 60% more exposed to the risk of developing an autoimmune response than the ones diagnosed with another kind of psychological distress. The time duration between baseline and follow up was averaging five years.

Men with a history of PTSD were more likely to have had a history of combat experience. Women with PTSD history were most likely exposed to physical or sexual trauma. The researchers observed an association of PTSD and stress with autoimmune conditions that were similar for both survivors of combat and survivors of physical or sexual trauma.

The researchers found the link between stress, gut, and autoimmunity: stress induces autoimmunity, and the autoimmunity triggers the leaky gut: the leaky gut and the new study. Leaky gut means intestinal permeability. The intestine typically exhibits some permeability, which allows nutrients to pass through the gut. It maintains a barrier to keep potentially harmful substances from leaving the intestine and migrating to the body more widely. When the barrier becomes loos, bacteria and microbes are released into the body, causing inflammations.

Increased intestinal permeability is a factor in several diseases, most of them autoimmune. The cause-effect relationship between increased intestinal permeability in most of these diseases is not clear, but the new study seems to put things in order.
The toxins and bacteria released by the gut, get into the bloodstream, and then to the brain, causing mental health symptoms. Because of the inflammations they created, they make the brain react and command the immune system to take action. But the only thing the immune system can attack is the body because the body is the one causing the damage.

Every time the body will release any tiny particle that could cause inflammation, the immune system will attack the organ releasing that particle. The healthy guts permeability becomes a liability. It is the same pattern as every other organ that becomes autoimmune. The psychoanalysis might see a logical pattern here: the body couldn’t protect the mind, so the mind punishes the body. Rejects it for being week, unable to respond right.


Anna is an avid blogger with an educational background in medicine and mental health. She is a generalist with many other interests including nutrition, women's health, astronomy and photography. In her free time from work and writing, Anna enjoys nature walks, reading, and listening to jazz and classical music.

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