Autoimmune Disorders Raise Risk Of Age-Related Disease

Histopathological image of the active stage of ulcerative colitis Credit: Wikimedia Commons

An analysis of 1.8 million patients in the UK has revealed that those with an autoimmune condition are more likely to develop dementia and cardiovascular disease

Inflammation is a major part of the aging process, and unsurprisingly has been associated with a huge range of diseases. Now researchers have discovered a strong link between chronic inflammation and dementia and Alzheimer's, building on a wealth of UK data from 1999 and 2012 involving 1.8 million patients.

Playing with fire

Your immune system is a powerful enemy or friend. It has at its fingertips a wealth of chemical warfare tactics, but when these are used against you things can go very wrong indeed. It is perhaps predictable therefore that these autoimmune disorders, in which immune cells are targeting a patient's own cells for many years, can have complex consequences - triggering more chronic diseases later down the road.

The research found that multiple sclerosis sufferers were most vulnerable to dementia, which is logical given that cell death is in the nervous system. Psoriasis also boosted risk by 29% compared to the average individual, whereas lupus erythematosus raised risk by stark 46%. Sadly, the presence of an autoimmune disorder in general was found to increase cardiovascular disease hospitalisation by 53%, and increased stroke events by 46%.  Autoimmune disorders also heightened risk of vascular dementia by 29%, but curiously only 6% with Alzheimer's. 

“It’s striking that increased risk for vascular dementia exceeds that for Alzheimer’s. The impact of autoimmune diseases on cardiovascular disease may be the key common link.The results are very compelling and support the notion that neurovascular damage and inflammation are key drivers of risk for Alzheimer’s disease”

Curiously, on the flip side patients with rheumatoid arthritis actually had a 10% decrease in risk of developing dementia. The team theorised that this was because all of those patients were taking daily anti-inflammatory drugs to deal with their condition. 

Read more at The New Scientist