Autoimmune disease may be linked to heightened dementia risk

According to long term study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community

Autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and coeliac disease, may be linked to a heightened risk of dementia, indicates a large long term study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health today (Wednesday 1 March 2017).

Researchers at the University of Oxford looked at the data of more than 1.8 million people admitted to hospital with autoimmune disease from 1998 to 2012 in England. They compared this to the data of over 7 million people admitted to hospital for causes other than autoimmune disease over the same time period. Twenty-five different autoimmune diseases were covered in the study including coeliac disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.

Compared with people admitted to hospital for other causes, those admitted with an autoimmune disorder were 20 per cent more likely to be later admitted to hospital with dementia. Of the 25 autoimmune diseases included in the analysis, 18 were significantly associated with dementia. The type of dementia was not always documented, but in the cases where this was known, the risk was 6 per cent higher for Alzheimer’s disease, and 28 per cent higher for vascular dementia.

Dr Clare Walton, Research Manager at Alzheimer’s Society said:

'The causes of dementia are complex and we are increasingly learning about links between dementia and other health conditions. 

'This large scale study of UK hospital admissions data found that people with autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease, have on average a 20 per cent increased risk of developing dementia. To put this in context, other known factors can increase a person’s risk of dementia much more – for example smoking by 45 per cent.

'This research reinforces earlier evidence that shows the immune system plays an important role in developing dementia, opening up new avenues to find effective treatments. Alzheimer’s Society is currently funding a study to test whether a rheumatoid arthritis treatment can also work for people with early stage Alzheimer’s disease.'

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