Childhood abuse linked with tripled adult SLE incidence



Women who self-reported a high level of physical and emotional abuse as children had a nearly three-fold increased incidence of systemic lupus erythematosus during adulthood, in a study of more than 67,000 American nurses.

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The results also suggested that development of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have been intermediary steps between episodes of childhood abuse and later development of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), Candace H. Feldman, MD, said at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

These findings suggest the “importance of screening for childhood abuse exposures as well as for depression and PTSD in routine practice,” although Dr. Feldman acknowledged that interventions aimed at treating depression and PTSD have as of now no proven role for mitigating SLE.

The analysis Dr. Feldman and her associates ran on data collected in the Nurses Health Study II also documented a “striking” number of the enrolled women who completed the survey in 2001 and reported a history of abuse when they were 11 years old or younger: 30% of the 67,516 respondents reported a moderate level of abuse, and 24% reported a high level of abuse. An additional 22% reported either no or a very low level of abuse. These numbers suggest that abuse of girls “is very common and probably underreported,” she said in a video interview.

The Nurses Health Study II enrolled more than 116,429 U.S. women in 1989 who were 25-42 years old and had no history of SLE. Recording of incident SLE cases began in 1991 and for this analysis continued for 24 years, through 2015, during which time 94 women developed SLE that was confirmed in a review by two rheumatologists applying the 1997 SLE classification criteria (Arthritis Rheum. 1997 Sept;40[9]:1725. The incidence of SLE was 2.57-fold more common among women who reported a high level of abuse, compared with those who had no or very low abuse, after adjustment for several demographic and clinical confounders, reported Dr. Feldman, a rheumatologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“To our knowledge this is the first study to prospectively look at exposure to different forms of childhood abuse and SLE incidence in a general population of women,” she said.

To make the analysis more prospective the researchers also ran a calculation that considered only SLE cases that appeared after completion of the 2001 abuse survey. Using this criterion the incidence was 3.11-fold higher among women who reported a high level of childhood abuse. Further analyses showed that statistically a diagnosis of PTSD accounted for about 23% of the risk for developing SLE, and depression appeared responsible for about 17% of the risk. The analysis also showed no statistically significant link between sexual abuse in childhood or as a teenager and later onset of SLE.

The findings are consistent with prior reports that linked stress to development of various autoimmune diseases, Dr. Feldman noted. She speculated that high childhood stress could cause changes in inflammation, immune function, epigenetics, the autonomic nervous system, and endocrine pathways that could play a role in triggering depression or PTSD, and eventually SLE.

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SOURCE:Feldman C et al. Arthritis Rheumatol. 2018;70(suppl 10) Abstract 2807.

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