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New study suggests nightmares may signal early autoimmune disease flare-ups

The study shows that nightmares come before being diagnosed with autoimmune rheumatological diseases.

Nightmares are unpleasant, but perfectly normal – for most. However, a study recently discovered that they can also presage autoimmune diseases, such as lupus.

The study, published in The Lancet's eClinicalMedicine journal, explored possible early warning signs of autoimmune disease flare-ups. The researchers surveyed 676 patients with lupus and 400 doctors and carried out over 100 in-depth interviews.

The researchers asked about the neurological and mental symptoms patients experience, and when they happened in relation to when their disease first started. This included symptoms such as low mood, hallucinations, tremors and fatigue. The researchers also asked if there was a usual pattern of symptoms for patients as they were about to get a flare-up (worsening symptoms).

Many patients could describe symptoms that happened just before their flares. Although patterns varied between different people, they were often similar in each person's flare-ups. Patients often knew which symptoms were a sign that their disease was about to get worse.

Nightmares coming before autoimmune diseases have been found in other neurological diseases. Descriptions of flare-related nightmares in the study often involved being attacked, trapped, crushed or falling. Many were very distressing. One person described them as: “Horrific, like murders, like skin coming off people, horrific.”

Another important finding was that these nightmares often came before a disease flare-up, particularly in people who then had hallucinations as part of their disease pattern. This was more likely in people with lupus than the other rheumatological diseases such as inflammatory arthritis. This wasn't unexpected as lupus is known to affect the brain in some cases.

Of the patients also reporting hallucinations, 61% of lupus patients and 34% with other autoimmune rheumatological diseases reported increasing disrupted sleep (mostly nightmares) just before their hallucinations.

The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.

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