Brain imaging studies show differences in individuals with schizophrenia that could cause susceptibility to autoimmune disease.

Schizophrenia is a mental health disorder that can cause psychosis, which includes hallucinations and delusions. For some, schizophrenia may feel debilitating and overwhelming as it can cause trouble distinguishing what’s real from what isn’t.

Research also suggests that schizophrenia can affect your autoimmune system, potentially leading to an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, your immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy cells in your body.

The link between autoimmune conditions and psychosis is well-documented in the research literature. If you have an autoimmune condition or experience psychosis, figuring out the root cause can help you identify the proper course of treatment.

Although the exact link is not fully understood, research suggests there is an association between autoimmune disease and schizophrenia. A 2019 review indicates a link between non-neurological autoimmune diseases and psychosis. The review mentions that there was a positive association between psychosis and these autoimmune conditions:

The researchers assert that the association between psychosis and autoimmune conditions occurs due to the following:

Additional research suggests that brain imaging studies of individuals with schizophrenia have found inflammatory and immunological differences in the brains of individuals with schizophrenia. Some of these abnormalities include:

  • Microglial activation: coordinates the body’s immune system during disease-associated inflammation in the brain or spinal cord.
  • Proliferation in brain regions: associated with psychosis.
  • Upregulation of inflammatory mediators: the stimulation or cellular thickening of the cells that produce inflammatory compounds.

The brains of individuals with schizophrenia are different, and sometimes this may cause susceptibility to autoimmune disease.

SSRI and autoimmune disease

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used to treat depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Research indicates SSRIs may lower the chance of developing an autoimmune disease. For example, one 2018 study found that SSRI use in individuals with PTSD decreased the risk of developing an autoimmune disease.

Psychosomatic autoimmune diseases are autoimmune conditions that are caused or intensified by mental health conditions or stress.

Research suggests autoimmune conditions that are associated with psychosis include:

If you have these conditions and are experiencing any mental health symptoms, you may want to consider seeking treatment to help reduce symptoms.

Autoimmune psychosis symptoms

The symptoms of autoimmune psychosis may be different than what you would see in psychosis that isn’t attributed to immune system conditions. However, this condition is not fully understood and experts are still debating whether autoimmune psychosis is an actual thing.

Research indicates some possible autoimmune psychosis symptoms may include:

  • onset of symptoms outside of the typical age range for onset of psychosis
  • confusion
  • disorientation
  • language disintegration
  • catatonia
  • visual or multi-modal hallucinations (e.g., visual and auditory) being dominant
  • olfactory hallucinations (detection of smells that aren’t there)
  • delusions related to misidentification, such as those present in capgras syndrome (the belief that an imposter has replaced other people such as friends, family, or partner)
  • medical illness that occurs before or with current psychosis
  • lack of factors typically associated with a predisposition to psychosis (e.g., family history of schizophrenia)

If you believe that you may have psychosis due to an autoimmune condition or vice versa, you may consider asking a medical professional about getting a neurological exam to help find the root of your symptoms.

Schizophrenia vs. autoimmune encephalitis

Autoimmune encephalitis and schizophrenia can have very similar symptoms. Research suggests that overlapping symptoms can cause misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment.

Some signs you may have autoimmune encephalitis, according to 2020 research, include:

  • rapid progression of symptoms in less than three months when being treated for psychosis with medication
  • memory deficits such as amnesia or disorientation
  • catatonia
  • speech dysfunction
  • abnormal postures or movements (e.g., dystonia or dyskinesia)
  • seizures
  • focal neurological deficits
  • hyponatremia
  • other autoimmune conditions
  • suspected malignant neuroleptic syndrome

If you aren’t responding to medication for schizophrenia and are experiencing the above symptoms, you may consider speaking with a medical professional to rule out autoimmune encephalitis. Autoimmune encephalitis is a rare condition, but it can be severe.

Yes, your mental health can affect your immune system. One research study indicates that depression and fatigue have an impact on inflammation. Depression and fatigue can increase inflammation in the immune system, which can cause problems with your central nervous system and periphery.

Additional research indicates that chronic stress can impact the immune system making you more prone to disease, affecting the healing of wounds, and causing difficulty in your immune system’s ability to suppress viruses.

If you are seeking treatment for schizophrenia, medication will likely be the first-line treatment. Research indicates that typical and atypical antipsychotics are often used for treating schizophrenia.

In addition to medication, certain psychological interventions are also used to treat schizophrenia. Research suggests four psychosocial interventions are effective for the treatment of schizophrenia which include:

  • Social skills training: Training on how to be effective in social situations; individually or in groups
  • Family psychoeducation: Education, support, and collaboration with families to help solve problems
  • Cognitive therapy: Teaches techniques to reduce distress linked with delusions and hallucinations
  • Cognitive rehabilitation: Uses repetitive tasks on a computer to help improve memory, attention, and problem-solving skills

If you need treatment for schizophrenia, you can use the FindCare tool to help you find a medical professional or therapist near you.

Research has shown a link between autoimmune disease and schizophrenia. In addition, brain-imaging studies have found differences in individuals with psychosis linked to inflammatory markers in the brain. SSRIs, however, may help reduce the risk of developing autoimmune diseases.

Additionally, if you have schizophrenia, it’s important you’re aware of the symptoms of autoimmune encephalitis, as there is quite a bit of overlap between the symptoms of schizophrenia and autoimmune encephalitis.

Standard treatments for schizophrenia involve antipsychotic medication and psychosocial intervention. For more information about living with schizophrenia, consider visiting the Schizophrenia & Psychosis Action Alliance.