Can auto-immune disorders have an affect on a person's mind or brain?

4 answers | Last updated: Sep 30, 2016
Msgtrick asked...

My wife has been diagnosed with three different auto-immune disorders: Lupus, Fybromyalgia & Rheumatory Arthritis. Do these conditions affect the brain/mind & IS THERE any evidence or people's experiences where it causes a premature death? I was her care taker until last year and noticed mood swings. Day's in bed, very tired most of the time. She's had these conditions for the last 6 or 7 years that we know of. Eradic behavior that affect her decisions.Etc. Thank You... She is 58 years.

Expert Answers

Jennifer Serafin, N.P. is a registered nurse and geriatric nurse practitioner at the Jewish Homes for the Aged in San Francisco.

Your letter contains many questions, so I am going to answer them in order.

1) Do Lupus (SLE), Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA), or Fibromyalgia affect the brain/mind?
I would say that any chronic disease (and your wife has 3) that causes chronic pain, disability, and physical changes can affect someone's mind and mood. My other thought is that one of the medications used to treat these diseases is Prednisone, which is a corticosteroid. This medication can reduces inflammation and pain by slowing joint damage. But, it is a hormone, and it can cause mood swings in some patients.

Many research studies are going on with autoimmune disorders and antidepressants, as they often help mood and decrease pain for these patients. If your wife is not on an antidepressant already, this may be something for her to talk with her healthcare provider about.

2) Do autoimmune disorders cause premature death? I have reviewed some studies that were available. One showed that deaths from cardiovascular disease and pulmonary fibrosis were higher in people with Rheumatoid Arthritis than expected. Also, another study with lupus showed that although the death rate has drastically declined in the past decade due to better treatment, there was still a high incidence of death in young women early in their disease in regards to "circulatory disease". So, what does this mean? I would make sure your wife gets frequent visits with her health care provider to be sure that her diseases are not taking a toll on her heart or circulation. Autoimmune diseases cause chronic inflammation, and they may do this to the heart and blood vessels.

It sounds like your wife has a strong supporter in you. Since she has 3 painful conditions, it is probably hard for her to cope. Her behavior may be difficult, as she may feel helpless at times. She may have trouble making decisions, but she is dealing with a body that is betraying her. If she is not already in a support group, there are many out there for lupus, fibromyalgia, and RA. It may help her to get involved in one, as she may learn how to cope better if she hears other people with the same issues. Good luck!

Community Answers

Msgtrick answered...

Thankyou very much. We are currently seperated and until her departure last June I was her caregiver. Your information affirms my suspicions as I saw the changes in behavior coupled with our own individual issues which impeded our marriage. It's been very difficult for both of us but I would take her back in a second if she only wanted to try? Thankyou very much for your assistance it helps me understand alot of things now that I know how these diseases & her teeth problems affect her. I can only continue to pray for her and myself. God will have the final say on our marriage.....

Marykaytrainum answered...

I am a 48yr old who has been fighting all 3 of the auto-immune diseases that you mentioned for more than 15 yrs. I was first diagnosed with Lupus and the Rheumatoid Arthritis (it goes hand in hand with Lupus). It wasn't until several years later that the Fibromyalgia diagnosis was confirmed. (and believe me when I tell you that MANY people still don't believe that it's even a true illness!) To answer your question(s), I must tell you that YES... all of these DEFINITELY can affect a person's brain / mood, and it does vary from one patient to another. I have suffered from Lupus for quite awhile, knowing my moods were / ARE being affected and to be honest, I often hated to admit it!! If someone were to ask me, I'd find myself quickly denying the fact that the Lupus had anything to do with my "mood". And, for some reason, ,just the fact that someone would ask me about my mood and put Lupus in the same sentence, would make me want to SCREAM! I KNEW IT HAD ALOT TO DO WITH IT BUT HATED TO SAY THAT OUT LOUD!! I sometimes still find it difficult to admit that, especially right in the midst of one of my "moods". :) I have been an RN for 25+ years and Lupus is often misunderstood, both in the healthcare field AND in the general public. That is difficult for those of us with these diseases. In my case, the absolute HORRIBLE fatigue / exhaustion is one of the toughest aspects to deal with. And it follows no 'rhyme or reason' can be feeling "OK" one minute and suddenly you are overcome with such feelings of tiredness. You might even be fortunate enough to have a few good days in a row. However, you're NEVER guaranteed a good day tomorrow. That's not an easy thing to deal with. Chronic illnesses like these can have dozens of complications that can be directly or indirectly related. It does take a major toll on relationships - ALL OF THEM!! Family relationships (with parents as well as with children), intimate relationships (whether you're in the early phases of dating or you're married for a good while), casual relationships, professional relationships (employers and employees), spiritual relationships, and relationships with friends. At one time or another, every one of these relationships are most likely affected. Sometimes it makes the relationship stronger, but unfortunately in my experience I've seen it have alot to do with the damage and destruction of a relationship. It's difficult for others to really understand what we're going through. Often to them it doesn't make sense - Many patients look healthier than they really are. That's a good thing, but it complicates matters. Friends or family may think some symptoms are convenient for a specific person. They might think that maybe we just don't want to do something or go somewhere at the time, and suddenly were "sick" again! It definitely takes a toll on everyone involved. Many patients end up isolating themselves. And often depression is close behind if not right there beside us the entire time. Living with Lupus has not been easy for me by any means. However, when I think about it and am honest, I have to admit it has made me a better nurse, a better mother, and a better friend.

A fellow caregiver answered...

My wife was diagnosed about 5 years ago ( she is 50) when she has an episode/ attack she goes thru multiple nights of no sleep during this time she becomes very different ( aloof, rambling etc) it is as regular as clock work.