Wegener's Disease flares and stress

I read a great post this morning about vasculitis, stress and 'flares.'

Flares, in case you didn't already know, are fresh outbreaks of the disease that occur after the sufferer has gone into remission. The article was prompted by a study from researchers at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS)

The study suggests that mental health is a risk factor in patients with vasculitis. Interestingly for this blog, the specific disease they chose to study was Wegener’s granulomatosis (GPA). 

The role of stress in Wegener's Disease flares

The role of stress in Wegener's Disease flares

The research was led by Robert Spiera, MD, director of vasculitis and scleroderma program in HSS.

He says that doctors caring for patients with this disease must be attentive to their psychological health.

This study indicates that mental disorders should be part of your medical expertise, You have to pay attention to the patient’s mental well-being and to be more aggressive on the interim if the patient is in a bad place.
— Robert Spiera, MD

Anecdotally, many vasculitis patients often link flares in their disease to stressful life situations. Of course the plural of anecdotes is not data. This study followed patients every three months of their treatment and remission and looked at both their physical and mental health. The sufferers completed a health survey with both physical and mental components and these results were then plotted on a scale of 0 (least healthy) to 100 (most healthy).

The study found that for patients in remission for more than 6 months, they were 19% more likely to suffer from a flare in their disease if their mental health score was significantly lower than previous scores.

This is the first time as an independent variable, stress seemed to predict greater likelihood of burning.
— Robert Spiera, MD

Of course, life must go on if you suffer from an autoimmune disease, and you will still experience stressful situations. You may have money worries, fall out with friends, or have a tough time at work. So if you can't avoid stress altogether what can you do?

You can seek help in the form of therapy, and if you are particularly stressed you should talk to someone like your GP as soon as you can. There are also some practical things you can do to reduce stress without seeing a professional.

  • Gentle exercise such as walking, Pilates and yoga can be great. The mindfulness that they promote can be a good way to stop the stress from taking hold in the first place.
  • Try listening to your favourite music. I know that that can affect my mood greatly.
  • How about calling a friend for a chat? They might be able to help you put things in perspective.
  • Eating a healthy balanced diet is never a bad thing to do. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have been shown to reduce the symptoms of stress.
  • Laugh. Watch a TV show or better still go out and see a live comedian. Laughter can trick the immune system into thinking that it is happy.
  • Sleep is another important factor in reducing stress. Trying to get a solid 8 hours sleep by having an effective bedtime routine could help you enormously in the long run.

Do you think stress affects your illness? If so, how do you deal with it?

Image used under Creative Commons licence. Thanks to Florian Simeth.