A pilot research study on the link between Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and immune conditions, conducted by psychologists at Christine Tizzard Psychology, has been extended to further explore this issue, starting in spring 2019.
An immune disease is where the body’s defence system attacks itself. Debilitating immune conditions, including Lupus, Sarcoidosis and Sjogrens, are loosely labelled as connective tissue diseases. These diseases often cause serious disability and damage to internal organs. Interest has already been expressed by Sarcoidosis UK in assisting with the emerging research planned at Christine Tizzard Psychology for Spring 2019.
The new study will investigate a possible relationship between psychological trauma or PTSD (as defined by DSM-V, the diagnostic manual for mental health conditions) and the later development of auto-immune disease.
The Study: PTSD and Immune Disease
A small-scale pilot study was conducted on 149 previously healthy individuals. It was found that 125 of those in the study had been subject to psychological trauma (categorised into two different types) before their diagnosis of immune disease:
- They experienced one catastrophic trauma and were diagnosed with an immune condition 18-36 months post-trauma.
- They had suffered repeat psychological injuries that had resulted in a diagnosis of complex PTSD (C-PTSD).
Literature reviews reveal an absence of research in this area. Specifically, the possible correlations between the development of PTSD, a simultaneous raise in C-Reactive Protein in the blood (CRP) and the later development of debilitating immune conditions.
Scientists are aware that exposure to traumatic incidents often causes a sudden large chemical release, which fuels a ‘fight or flight’ response. Clinicians are not fully aware to what extent the release of chemicals such as noradrenaline and epinephrine affect levels of CRP (a marker of inflammation) in the body. Patients who have a diagnosis of PTSD often remain in a state of hyperarousal – that ‘fight or flight’ mode. It is crucial to know if this lasting heightened state found in PTSD is related to the development of systemic inflammation in the body.
This is a very important piece of research and potentially could influence earlier intervention to reduce or turn off inflammation before systemic damage occurs.
Currently research is being carried out with military personnel. It is investigating the presence of high CRP levels as a possible predictor in the development of later PTSD.
Possible Further Research
What is not so evident and needs investigation is the absence of a baseline to determine a soldier’s prior exposure to trauma. A possible research area could investigate whether the soldiers with high CRP levels were exposed to civilian trauma, such as road traffic accidents, suicide or rape, before starting active service.
If you would like to learn more about this area of research, please contact Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist and Chartered Scientist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.