Lupus causes the body’s immune system to break cells in parts of the body including the kidneys, lungs, skin and blood vessels.
This study follows on from previous research that has also suggested that it may impair memory and cognitive functions as well.
Lupus sufferers of all ages are at higher risk to develop dementia, according to the study authors, who suggest that doctors check for lupus when their patients show signs of early onset dementia.
Lupus sufferers like Selena Gomez (right) are 51 percent more likely to develop dementia, according to a new study. The researchers found that even people Selena’s age are at an elevated risk for memory problems if they have lupus. There is no indication that Selena Gomez has shown any signs of memory or cognitive issues.
Researchers in Israel analyzed data from more than 7,000 people and found that dementia was far more common among people with dementia than those without the disease.
Lupus is best known for the damage it does to the kidneys, but its symptoms can be extremely varied, making it very difficult to diagnose.
Experts have identified numerous forms of the disease, including nineteen variations of neuropsychiatric lupus, which affects the central nervous system, including cognitive and memory functions and can even cause psychological and psychiatric symptoms.
Some patients refer to a ‘lupus fog,’ a catchall description of the experience of difficulty concentrating, remembering facts, and expressing oneself. The fog can also come with depression and anxiety, all of which may signal a lupus flare up.
These symptoms are not unlike those of dementia and Alzheimer’s, the latter of which affects an estimated 5.5 million people in the US.
This most recent study demonstrates, however, that even patients who do not have a neuropsychiatric form of lupus are at a greater than normal risk of dementia.
What is lupus?
Lupus is an chronic autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own healthy cells. It is thought to be caused by genetic and environmental factors.
Environmental factors can also trigger attacks or ‘flare ups.’ Flare ups vary from person to person and are not the same each time.
They can be marked by fatigue that can be mild or debilitating. Fatigue is often an early indicator that an attack is about to set in. Attacks can cause joint and muscle pain and swelling, particularly at the wrists, hands, elbows, knees and ankles.
Many people with lupus experience skin problems. The most distinctive marker of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash on the face. Lupus may also cause light sensitivity, fever, changes in weight and swollen glands.
People with lupus sometimes complain of a ‘fog,’ that can feel like depression or anxiety and sometimes causes them to have difficulty focusing and expressing themselves. Lupus made headlines when singer Selena Gomez revealed that she has the disease lat year.
Gomez was first diagnosed with lupus in 2015, when she was 25. She did a course of an immunotherapy treatment that was originally developed as chemotherapy to try to treat the disease.
She revealed her diagnosis in 2016, after symptoms like panic attacks and depressions led her to cancel her world tour early. In September, Gomez had to have a kidney transplant – donated by her best friend, Francia Raisa – to continue to fight lupus.
Corticosteroids are one of the primary treatments for lupus. As many as 80 percent of lupus patients, including Gomez, rely on steroids to keep inflammation related to the condition and its flare up at bay.
But the treatment comes with unpleasant side effects. Gomez has revealed that she struggles with weight fluctuations due to the treatment. Steroids are also associated with memory loss and cognitive impairment in lupus patients, though there is no indication that the medication has had this effect on Gomez.
However, the study authors write that there are no known, safe treatments that address both lupus and cognitive difficulties.
‘The absence of durable solutions for this disability is frustrating given the young age distribution of [lupus] patients,’ the study authors write.
But the authors remain hopeful: ‘On the other hand, the fact that we have demonstrated young age onset of cognitive decline in [lupus] patients renders it at least to a certain degree reversible.’