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

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 Answer

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!