Stress and rheumatic disease 4.25/5 (4)

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Stress can trigger rheumatic disease. Pixabay, CC0

Stress can be divided into two main groups, acute and chronic stress. Both forms are shown to affect the immune system, which can trigger rheumatic diseases. Research shows post-traumatic stress can trigger both Rheumatoid arthritis og Systemic Lupus (SLE)

Acute stress

In acute stress, the sympathetic (adrenergic) nervous system activates blood and lymphatic circulation, through, for example, adrenaline

  • The body is being prepared hormonally for a "fight and escape reaction"
  • The adrenal glands send out increased amounts of cortisone
  • Increased circulation means that the immune system to a greater extent recognizes foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses by increased antigen processing and presentation. However, there is also an increased risk of autoimmune reactions and rheumatic inflammation (reference: Pontgratz G, Straub RH, 2014)
  • It is shown that psychosocial stress for example by talking in front of a meeting causes stress reaction with increased cortisone and adrenaline in the blood. In addition, the immune cells react with increased (NFkB) activity so that anti-inflammatory drugs (proinflammatory cytokines) increase

Chronic stress

Persistent stress, for example, among people caring for chronically ill relatives, causes the immune system to produce increased amounts of inflammatory agents (pro-inflammatory cytokines) that trigger inflammation (via interleukin-6) (reference: Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Prescher KJ, 2003). In addition, the hormone system between the hypotalamus-pituitary-adrenocortical can be overstimulated in such a way that errors can occur in the immune system and rheumatic diseases are triggered

Individual reaction

Not everyone's immune system reacts equally to stress.

  • Data suggest that genetic differences determine the degree of stress-induced hormone secretion (reference: Cole SW, Arevalo JM, 2010)


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