Did Chronic Stress Cause My Scleroderma?
Because no one else in my family had scleroderma, I’ve often wondered where I procured this delightful autoimmune disease.
Scleroderma is the gift that keeps on giving, something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I wonder if there’s a way I can return it, maybe for an in-store credit or a gift card.
But alas, there is no return policy for scleroderma. Once you have it, you have it, just like that ugly sweater Grandma put under the tree — you have no choice but to wear it. Now I understand why the kid with the bunny suit in “A Christmas Story” was scowling.
But where did it come from and how did I get it? No one really knows for sure, and I find this very intriguing. My private investigator personality will kick in, and I’ll start researching the answer.
A scleroderma patient is a whiz at investigating, researching, and discovering. We turn over every stone. We will find the answers.
We all know that life can be stressful, and that stress affects us in many ways. Stress is a killer. Being in a constant state of fight-or-flight triggers an acute stress response that keeps our body in its heightened state.
Our bodies want to maintain homeostasis, a fancy word for a state of balance. Sustained stress will cause the body to break down. It has been scientifically proven that a homeostatic imbalance can lead to disease.
I have spent most of my adult life under moderate or severe stress. I have an outstanding ability to compartmentalize my emotions. If something needs to be handled, I handle it. However, managing it all doesn’t mean it isn’t hard to handle.
For many of us, managing stress is a challenge. We may have families to take care of, careers to excel at, and a multitude of other responsibilities that fall on our shoulders. We don’t have time to let the stress bring us down. And those of us with scleroderma have to manage a rare disease on top of everything else.
However, women are 4 times more likely than men to be affected by scleroderma. I think women are often expected to handle more stress. We are encouraged to have it all and do it all. That pressure alone is extraordinarily stressful.
Once we’re living with scleroderma, or any autoimmune disease, stress can significantly affect the severity of the disease and trigger flares. Therefore, it would stand to reason that stress could trigger an autoimmune response. Stress affects every organ when our body is under duress.
According to an 2018 article published in JAMA, a large study of Swedish patients found that “exposure to a clinical diagnosis of stress-related disorders was significantly associated with an increased risk of autoimmune disease.”
Doctors can’t definitively tell me what caused my scleroderma. All that matters now is managing my symptoms, and most importantly, slowing disease progression. To do that, I must reduce my stress levels.
For anyone else living with scleroderma, do whatever you need to do to minimize stress. Personally, I love hot yoga. The moist heat helps my joints, and I find it to be a very cleansing activity. Just be sure to get your physician’s approval before starting any exercise program. Alternatively, you could read, write, create — whatever makes you happy.
Your body will thank you for it.
Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.