Autoimmune Disorders and PTSD

So this thing that makes my vulva and vagina feel like it has a bad sunburn (sometimes a healing itchy one, sometimes a fresh hot painful one) is an autoimmune disorder, so I’m looking into autoimmune disorders to see what I can do to self-manage and care for my body.

I don’t like the idea that my body has decided to attack my vulva. She’s been through enough, so I’m hoping to turn that around.

What I’ve found is an epidemiological study looking at folks with PTSD and autoimmune disorders in soldiers with PTSD. [An aside: Soldiers are so much safer for people to wrap their heads around studying, aren’t they? They’re clearly not crazy, like those women who said they were raped in childhood… Thank Goddess we have them to provide a parallel example to validate with, but really…] No big surprise – folks with PTSD have more of them. Here’s the specifics:

“To date, studies have linked traumatic stress exposures and PTSD to such conditions as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, musculoskeletal disorders, and other diseases. Evidence linking cardiovascular disease and exposure to psychological trauma is particularly strong and has been found consistently across different populations and stressor events.” [BOSCARINO, J. A. (2004), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Physical Illness: Results from Clinical and Epidemiologic Studies. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1032: 141–153. doi: 10.1196/annals.1314.011]

So we are more likely to get all of the above as a result of trauma. Not a super large surprise if you know a lot of survivors, but nice that they did the research.

The second bit is how it affects our bodies.

“we assessed the association between chronic PTSD in a national sample of 2,490 Vietnam veterans and the prevalence of common autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, insulin-dependent diabetes, and thyroid disease. Our analyses suggest that chronic PTSD, particularly comorbid PTSD or complex PTSD, is associated with all of these conditions. In addition, veterans with comorbid PTSD were more likely to have clinically higher T-cell counts, hyperreactive immune responses on standardized delayed cutaneous hypersensitivity tests, clinically higher immunogolobulin-M levels, and clinically lower dehydroepiandrosterone levels. The latter clinical evidence confirms the presence of biological markers consistent with a broad range of inflammatory disorders, including both cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases.” BOSCARINO, J. A. (2004), Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Physical Illness: Results from Clinical and Epidemiologic Studies. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1032: 141–153. doi: 10.1196/annals.1314.011

If you don’t speak medical-research language, what the above means.

The blood tests that people use to assess immune response are showing that people with PTSD have high levels of things that mean there is a problem with the immune system, and that people with those kinds of results usually have one or more health problems connected with inflammation (swelling), including heart and autoimmune problems. The also checked and people with PTSD, in addition to having these abnormal blood test results, also had more of the kinds of autoimmune diseases that you would expect of people with high levels of the things they tested for in their blood.

All right, now what fixes these high blood levels of bad stuff and makes the immune system calm down? What’s the research on that? I’m working on finding some credible sources to use for another post on that topic. Hang in there.

11 thoughts on “Autoimmune Disorders and PTSD”

    1. sworddancewarrior

      I’m sorry. Is MS an autoimmune disease? Then yes, it’s likely related. May you be well and outlive her.

    1. That research link is not credible. It would be credible if it was to a peer reviewed scientific journal instead of “the multidisciplinary association for psychodelic studies”. An organization whose stated purpose is to promote the use of marijuana and psychodelic drugs can’t be an objective source of information.
      Besides, we already have great, effective treatment for PTSD, we just need to make sure people have access to them. Social support, good quality counselling, justice, empowerment based exposure therapy, EMDR. I’m not against people taking legitimate psychiatric medication as required, but PTSD treatment (unless its combined with a mental illness like clinical depression or severe anxiety) doesn’t normally involve or require medication. I think of it as rehabbing an injured limb rather than treating a disease. People are always looking for a quick fix, particularly if it means they can get around the legal and social accountability aspects of child sexual abuse, but in my opinion, if we are going to derive meaning from why this happens to children, and prevent it from happening to children in future, we’ve got to understand and receive the lessons it teaches.

  1. Pingback: What I learned about health care and sexual abuse survivors | May We Dance Upon Their Graves

  2. Oh yeah, I can relate to that observation about soldiers. Despite the major clinical references describing trauma suffered by abuse and domestic violence survivors as equal in intensity to that of vets, for some reason our culture simply doesn’t want to recognise women’s suffering.

    The idea that a mere woman could experience anything like our brave enlisted men, off fighting for oil or resources or in search of WMDs… Poor old girl must just have a fit of the vapours.

    Anyways, enough of my bad attitude LOL. Have you done much reading about meditation? I hear all sorts of good things about it, and when I do, I feel much better for it. The only hassle seems to be that when you give your mind and emotions room to relax, a lot of bad memories come bubbling up, wanting to be dealt with. One day I’ll be able to see my therapist every week for a year and get past all that. One day.

    1. Yes, I meditate, and yes, I noticed early in healing that memories would bubble up when I had room to relax. The only advice I can give is to work with your therapist on skills to handle them so that you can just let them bubble up and can process them when you need to, and notice what works for you. Those skills for me are self-comforting, self-mothering, and getting used to tolerating and surrendering to feeling strong emotions. Self-mothering and developing a connection with a higher power (God / Goddess / the universe) have been really helpful, as has inner child stuff. At one point I had a teddy bear I would cuddle to comfort my inner child. I would intend for the bear to kind of become my inner child, and hold it or tuck it into bed if I needed that for myself. It can feel like enough.

      What I remind myself is that the bad memory stuff has already happened and you and I already survived, and the backlog of memories does eventually clear. It’s a lot better than constantly using energy to keep them down, which is what you’d be doing if they are that close to the surface. I know (believe me, I know) it’s scary when they (the memory fragments) are always there, lurking. It’s not a good feeling. I can now meditate and have a calm life without anything coming up at all.

  3. Hi- I just found your blog, and can really identify with everything you are writing. I actually just had $1600 worth of blood tests to rule out RA. I don’t have it, but I do have a high blood count of some inflammatory marker, which upsets me. I know it’s connected with my PTSD.

    I had a great therapist once, she worked with abuse survivors, and also worked with PTSD veterans at the VA hospital. She told me that a lot of the studies are done there because the government, for so long now, just called these vets “shell shocked” and did nothing, so there’s a lot more gov’t funding for PTSD now. And also because a lot of them have similar exposures that caused their PTSD, and they are all at the VA and connected, so it’s easier to clinically research and prove validity of treatment. I, for one, don’t really mind that veterans are getting the research, because we (survivors) are still benefitting from the research, either way.

    PS: I love the name of your blog- I personally say that I’ll be first in line to kick my abuser/his enablers into their graves. Like seriously just roll them into a hole with a swift kick with my boot.

    1. Thanks, I love the idea of dancing on his grave too, and of us all dancing on their graves. May you get the chance to do that. I’d love to have a bunch of pictures of us all rejoicing on the graves of our abusers. Yes, I believe it’s connected to your PTSD too. One thing that might help you. I am taking turmeric (I fill capsules with the spice and take 3 of them daily). It makes a big difference in everything from my vulva skin issue to my general level of inflammation. I can even work out without feeling sore the next day. No side effects, although I would recommend taking it early in the day as spicy food can interfere with sleep.

  4. Sure, soldiers are being very useful to understand PTSD. I hope that convenience will not become a mainstream association – as in : “you’re not a soldier, how could you have PTSD” ?

    I remember being told for years “why are you making that fuss about inhaling other people’s smoke ? You’re not the one smoking, you won’t get the cancer, so stop being a wuss.” Then some communicating genius coined the term “second-hand smoke” and overnight I went from someone trying to impede smokers’ rights to someone having asthma attacks triggered by second-hand smoke.

    I don’t think it’s helpful, nor quite exact, to consider it as your body attacking your vulva. Auto-immune diseases happen when parts of your body think that other parts of your body are abnormal, alien, and must be fought against. It’s a protection mechanism overdoing its tasks.

    Couldn’t you think of it as your body fighting to prevent you from further injury, to protect you from evil, and mistaking the scars you have there for ongoing trauma ? Then, think of telling your body that it’s ok, that the scars have to be accepted and be allowed to be a part of you, at peace with the rest of you, that it’s now time to stop the biological warfare and allow real healing…

    Not to say that it would cure your auto-immune disease, but it might help, since thoses diseases can disappear for no apparent reasons sometimes. I had itchy planar spots on my legs one year, multiplicating, that all disappeared after a dermatologist took one as a biopsy (I understand your pain), and found nothing conclusive.

    Best luck

    1. That’s a good way of framing it. Mostly I’m just focussing on love and pleasure and how much I love that part of my body and how safe and happy I am. Also keeping the dairy and gluten content down.

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