SINGAPORE: Fans of pop singer Selena Gomez may have heard of her lupus diagnosis but what is only recently known is that the autoimmune disease may also increase her risk of dementia by 50 per cent, a new study suggests.
Dr Daniela Amital and colleagues from the Sackler Faculty of Medicine at Tel Aviv University in Israel reported their results in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry on Nov 8 after analysing data from the Clalit Health Care database, the largest health maintenance organisation in Israel with more than 4.4 million enrollees.
They found that dementia was far more common in people with lupus of all ages than those without the disease.
Based on the study’s results, the researchers concluded that systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is significantly associated with dementia.
SLE is the most common form of lupus. It causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly destroy healthy cells in the body including the lungs, skin, blood vessels, and as Gomez’s kidney transplant attested to, the kidneys.
However, it is a difficult disease to diagnose as its symptoms are very varied. Some of SLE’s symptoms, such as difficulty in concentrating, remembering facts and self expression, bear similarities to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Dementia is an umbrella term for conditions that affect cognitive abilities, including learning and memory. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60 to 80 per cent of all cases.
About 80 per cent of lupus patients, like Gomez, rely on corticosteroids to keep inflammation related to the condition and its flare-up at bay.
However, the treatment comes with side effects, including weight fluctuations, as well as the memory loss and cognitive impairment that add to the “lupus fog” that patients already experience.
Dr Amital and team wrote that there is no known, safe treatment that targets both lupus and cognitive problems at the moment. “The absence of durable solutions for this disability is frustrating, given the young age distribution of patients,” the study’s authors wrote.
Gomez’s lupus was revealed last year after symptoms like panic attacks and depression led her to cancel her world tour early. She was diagnosed with lupus in 2015 when she was 25.
However, the researchers are hopeful that their discovery would help doctors better diagnose lupus by looking out for the early onset of dementia.
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