Selena Gomez to Take Time Off to Deal with Lupus

Selena Gomez, 24, announced that she will be taking some time off to deal with complications of Lupus. Selena was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in 2011 and went public in  2013  when she was experiencing flare-ups.

Gomez has been traveling the world for several months with her Revival World Tour, She told People magazine:

“As many of you know, around a year ago I revealed that I have lupus, an illness that can affect people in different ways. I’ve discovered that anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be side effects of lupus, which can present their own challenges.”

“I want to be proactive and focus on maintaining my health and happiness and have decided that the best way forward is to take some time off. Thank you to all my fans for your support. You know how special you are to me, but I need to face this head on to ensure I am doing everything possible to be my best. I know I am not alone by sharing this, I hope others will be encouraged to address their own issues.

 ABC posted this video on the story:

For the basics on Lupus, see our original Selena Gomez story.

Lupus and Mental Health

It is not at all uncommon for people with lupus to show signs of mental health abnormalities, such as depression, anxiety, memory problems and so on. This can happen for several reasons.

Lupus can directly affect the brain

In about half of the patients with lupus, the disease can affect the brain and spinal cord. This occurs because (1) inflammation of blood vessels can cause a decrease or disrupt blood flow to the brain and (2) lupus antibodies can cross the “blood-brain barrier,” and directly damage brain cells.

This can lead to symptoms of:

  • Clouded thinking, confusion, or memory loss
  • Headaches
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Seizures
  • Strokes (in rare cases)

As many as half of patients with lupus suffer from a condition referred to as “lupus fog.” It is a general name for the cognitive impairments that often appear with lupus, including concentration and memory problems, confusion, and difficulty expressing yourself. The exact cause of lupus fog is unknown. These cognitive problems are often worse during flares, and can come and go or be continuous. They can be extremely frustrating for patients.

According the Lupus Foundation of America, these tips may help ease the frustrations of cognitive impairment caused by lupus:

  • Pay attention when receiving new information. Repeat it or write it down. Verify any details.
  • Focus on one task at a time.
  • Take good care of your body; exercise, eat well and get enough sleep.
  • Learn memory techniques, such as associating a person’s name with an image or repeating the name several times in conversation.
  • Try to stay organized. Consider using a calendar notebook to keep appointments, plans, contact information and reminders in one place.

Having a chronic illness can lead to depression and anxiety

Dealing with any chronic disease can be stressful. Reports show that up to 60 percent of people with a chronic disease may suffer from periods of depression.

According to Dr. Charles Raison, a psychiatrist and clinical director of the Mind-Body Program at the Emory University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in Atlanta, “a chronic disease like lupus, with symptoms of being tired and feeling ill, causes stress that signals your immune system to activate and causes inflammation. Psychological stress and illness travel the same brain pathways. This can become a vicious cycle in autoimmune disease. Sickness causes stress which causes more sickness.”

Depression and anxiety need to be treated when the symptoms are not going away and are affecting the activities everyday life.

Medications used to treat lupus and lead to mental health problems

Medications used to treat lupus can have side effects, including those affecting the brain. This is particularly true with corticosteroids, one of the primary medications used to treat lupus. Predisone can cause:

  • Aggression
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Mood changes
  • Nervousness

Doctors often have to walk a fine line to use the amount of medications needed to treat the underlying disease and minimized the mental health side effects. There are also effective medications used for treating depression along with “talk therapy” methods (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) that can counter the side effects of the medications.

If you are being treated for lupus and are having mental health issues, speak to your physician!

Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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