Could lupus raise dementia risk?

People living with lupus may be at significantly greater risk of developing dementia than those without the autoimmune disease, a new study suggests.

Lupus is a chronic condition wherein the immune system mistakingly attacks the body's healthy cells and tissues.

It is estimated that around 1.5 million people in the United States have lupus, and around 16,000 new cases of the disease are reported across the country each year.

Lupus is more likely to strike women than men, and most people who develop the condition are between the ages of 15 and 44.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most common form of lupus. This can cause damage to the joints, skin, lungs, kidneys, and blood vessels, which may lead to conditions such as kidney failure, arthritis, and seizures.

Research has also previously suggested that people with lupus are more likely to have problems with memory. The new study builds on such findings, after uncovering a possible link between lupus and an increased risk of dementia.

Study co-author Daniela Amital, of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University in Israel, and colleagues recently reported their results in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

Dementia risk increased by 51 percent

The team came to its findings by analyzing information from the Clalit Health Care database, which includes the data of more than 4.4 million people in Israel.

The researchers identified 4,886 individuals who had received a diagnosis of SLE, and these were matched by age and sex in a 1:5 ratio to 24,430 people without the condition (the controls). The incidence of dementia was assessed for each group.

The study revealed that people with SLE were 51 percent more likely to develop dementia than people without SLE, and this association persisted across all age groups.

Based on their results, the researchers conclude that "systemic lupus erythematosus is significantly associated with dementia."

Dementia is an umbrella term for a plethora of conditions that affect cognitive abilities, including learning and memory. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for around 60–80 percent of all cases.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are around 47 million people living with dementia across the globe, and this number is expected to soar to 75 million by 2030.

The precise causes of dementia are still unclear, but Amital and colleagues suggest that SLE could be one culprit. They say:

"This finding should give rise to search for SLE in patients with an ambiguous cause for dementia, especially those with an early-onset cognitive decline."