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How Prevalent are Autoimmune Disorders in Bipolar Disorder?

Approximately 50 million Americans live with autoimmune diseases. These include illnesses like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, celiac disease and type 1 diabetes. There are more than 80 types of autoimmune diseases. They are generally treatable but cannot be cured. Some are difficult to diagnose and many people have more than one autoimmune disease. A new study looks at the prevalence of some common autoimmune diseases in patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

The body’s immune system works by attacking organisms and other foreign objects that invade the body. Autoimmune diseases develop when a person’s immune system starts to recognize a person’s own healthy cells as foreign and attacks them. No one quite knows what causes autoimmune disease.

Different parts of the body are affected by different types of autoimmune diseases, although some present with similar symptoms like fatigue, muscle aches and fever. Some may relapse and remit, meaning symptoms come and go. Autoimmune diseases can include inflammation, which can cause swelling and pain.

Researchers led by Laura Cremaschi of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, looked at 5278 people with schizophrenia, 3798 with bipolar disorder and 6485 controls to determine the rates of autoimmune diseases in both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There were three autoimmune diseases with a higher prevalence in those with bipolar disorder.

Thyroid disease
The thyroid is a gland located just above the collarbone. It helps regulate metabolism and heart rate. When the body creates more thyroid hormone than it needs, this is called hyperthyroidism. Symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Heat intolerance
  • Muscle aches
  • Tremor
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Weight loss

When the body creates less thyroid hormone than it needs, this is called hypothyroidism. Symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Cold intolerance
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Thinning hair
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Depression

Some of the prevalence of thyroid disease in bipolar disorder can be explained by the use of lithium as a treatment for bipolar disorder. Lithium can induce hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism was more common in the group with schizophrenia.

Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints by targeting the joint lining. Inflammation can result in bone erosion and joint deformity. RA can also cause problems with the skin, eyes, lungs, heart and blood vessels. Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Tender, warm, swollen joints
  • Joint stiffness in the morning or after periods of inactivity
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Polymyalgia rheumatica
Polymyalgia rheumatica is another inflammatory disease. It causes muscle pain and stiffness, especially in the shoulders. Symptoms can develop quickly and are more commonly experienced in the morning. Most people who have PMR are over the age of 65. Symptoms include:

  • Shoulder and neck aches
  • Aches in the neck, upper arms, buttocks, hips and thighs
  • Stiffness in affected areas
  • Limited range of motion
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Malaise
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Depression


While the researchers found that these three autoimmune diseases were more common in people with bipolar disorder than in the control group, the prevalence rates were still low. Hyperthyroidism affected 2.1% of participants, hypothyroidism 5.7% when adjusted for lithium use. Rheumatoid arthritis affected 1.3% of participants and polymyalgia rheumatica affected 0.5%.

If you think you may be suffering from an autoimmune disease or any other illness, contact your doctor. Always inform any medical professional of all diagnosed illnesses as well as all medications.



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How Prevalent are Autoimmune Disorders in Bipolar Disorder?

LaRae LaBouff

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APA Reference
LaBouff, L. (2017). How Prevalent are Autoimmune Disorders in Bipolar Disorder?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Oct 2017
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