Along with the physical health problems lupus can cause, the disease can affect your mental and cognitive health. Damage to brain cells may occur as the result of changes in blood flow to the brain, inflammation, and antibodies that sometimes enter the brain. But developing an awareness of the potential effects that lupus can have on your cognitive function and state of mind may help you cope better with any changes that occur.
Effects of Lupus On Thinking and Behavior
Many individuals with lupus develop some level of cognitive dysfunction and experience times when they feel confused and struggle to express their thoughts. Sometimes people have memory problems or simply can't think clearly. Medications (such as corticosteroids) that you take to manage the physical symptoms of lupus can make these problems worse.
Some people with lupus experience inflammation in the brain, which can cause headaches or seizures. In a small number of cases, the inflammation can cause psychosis – a disconnect from reality. Although fewer than three percent of individuals who are newly diagnosed with lupus experience psychosis, about five percent of people with lupus experience psychosis as the disease progresses.
The psychosis caused by lupus can lead to hallucinations, delusional behavior, and disorganized thinking. Some of the medications (including prednisone) that doctors prescribe to treat lupus can cause psychosis – especially if you take large doses of the medicine.
If you suffer from psychosis, your doctor may need to stop these medications to see if they are causing the problem. However, if inflammation in the brain is the cause of psychosis, your doctor may prescribe anti-psychotic medications to treat anxiety and symptoms of psychosis, including paranoia, hostility, and mood swings.
Along with cognitive dysfunction, lupus can lead to depression – sometimes a result of the impact of suffering a chronic illness. Pain, disabling fatigue, and frequently feeling unwell and unable to do many of the things you once enjoyed can affect your emotional health and lead to depression. But prednisone and other medications you take for your lupus can also cause depression.
If you suffer from depression – whether caused by the need to adjust to a chronic illness or the medications you take to treat the illness – your doctor may prescribe antidepressant drugs to reduce the symptoms of depression and help you feel better.
SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), SNRIs (selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), lithium, and tricyclic antidepressants are the kinds of antidepressant medications doctors use. Your doctor also may prescribe anti-anxiety medications and the use of hypnotics and sedatives if you have lupus-related sleep problems.
What is referred to as lupus fog is another common symptom of lupus. It can also be a side effect of lupus medication. While these feelings can come and go, you may feel foggy for seconds or even minutes, struggling to retrieve information that you know is embedded somewhere inside your brain. Maybe you suddenly forget how to do something as simple as tying your shoe or find yourself reading the same words on a page several times before you absorb their meaning.
While there is no medicine to treat lupus fog, healthy lifestyle habits, including eating a well-balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and getting enough restful sleep, can help you deal better with any cognitive symptoms you experience.
Non-Drug Treatments for Lupus Cognitive Dysfunction
In addition to the medications your doctor prescribes to reduce or manage your physical lupus symptoms and mood problems, having a strong support network of family and friends can help you cope with the changes in your emotions and behavior that lupus can bring on. Biofeedback and relaxation therapies can help combat these problems as well – especially when you are feeling overly stressed. When your emotions become too overwhelming, talking to a therapist may help too.
For more information, contact Comprehensive Behavioral Health Associates Inc or a similar organization.