Healthy Living

Can Lupus Cause Mental Illness?

Can Lupus Cause Mental Illness?

Lupus may just affect every parameter of someone's well being, from mood changes to disorders of various bodily organs, but the brain can often be the victim of this disease. Statistics indicate that neuropsychiatric symptoms are present in as many as half (or maybe two-thirds) of all those who have lupus, though in most cases mental symptoms tend to be transient for patients. Mental disorders occur due to both direct and indirect effects of lupus. In some conditions, the disease may cause direct damage to the neurons, while in other cases mental illness is the result of chronic stress caused by the disease.

It would be difficult to say about the kind of mental issues that patients should expect with lupus, as one can expect to see just about anything, from simple headaches and anxiety, to major depression, loss of cognition, severe damage to the nerves and even psychosis.

Generalized inflammation of the brain, along with mental illness is not uncommon for lupus patients. In many cases, mental illness may occur acutely. Fortunately, most of the patients do well on aggressive therapy targeting lupus and related diseases that may prevent any psychiatric issues from developing.

Almost one-fourth of those living with lupus may have psychiatric issues along with neurological manifestations, sometime during the course of the disease. Although both the neurological (related to brain and nerves) and psychiatric (mental illness) problems are common in lupus, however, there has been limited attempts in understanding and classifying these conditions in some studies. Till date, the following list of neuropsychiatric conditions created by American College of Rheumatology remains the most accepted one; it provides the list of 19 such issues commonly found in lupus:

Problems due to the involvement of the central nervous system (brain):

  1. Headache
  2. Seizure disorders- convulsions
  3. Cerebrovascular disease- disease of blood vessels, stroke
  4. Demyelinating syndrome
  5. Myelopathy
  6. Movement disorder
  7. Aseptic meningitis
  8. Cognitive dysfunction
  9. Mood disorder- depression, anxiety being common
  10. Anxiety disorder
  11. Psychosis- loss of touch with reality, schizophrenia
  12. Acute confusional state

Peripheral nervous system (Disease of the nerves)

  1. Mononeuropathy
  2. Polyneuropathy
  3. Cranial neuropathy
  4. Acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (Guillain-Barré syndrome)
  5. Plexopathy
  6. Autonomic disorder- profuse sweating, altered bowel and bladder control
  7. Myasthenia gravis- extreme muscular weakness and fatigue

It should be understood that this is not a complete list. Thus, depression and anxiety may occur due to the burden of the chronic ailment, even when the brain and nerve cells are healthy and the disease is only mild. Statistics show that headaches are found in one-third of lupus cases, while mood disorders like depression and anxiety are present in one-fifth of cases, one-fifth also have decreased cognitive (mental) abilities, around 10% may have seizures, while cerebrovascular diseases touch 8% of cases. Stroke is one of the highly debilitating complications that often lead to fatal outcomes.