Importance: Mood disorders frequently co-occur with medical diseases that involve inflammatory pathophysiologic mechanisms. Immune responses can affect the brain and might increase the risk of mood disorders, but longitudinal studies of comorbidity are lacking.
Objective: To estimate the effect of autoimmune diseases and infections on the risk of developing mood disorders.
Design: Nationwide, population-based, prospective cohort study with 78 million person-years of follow-up. Data were analyzed with survival analysis techniques and adjusted for calendar year, age, and sex.
Setting: Individual data drawn from Danish longitudinal registers.
Participants: A total of 3.56 million people born between 1945 and 1996 were followed up from January 1, 1977, through December 31, 2010, with 91, 637 people having hospital contacts for mood disorders.
Main outcomes and measures: The risk of a first lifetime diagnosis of mood disorder assigned by a psychiatrist in a hospital, outpatient clinic, or emergency department setting. Incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and accompanying 95% CIs are used as measures of relative risk.
Results: A prior hospital contact because of autoimmune disease increased the risk of a subsequent mood disorder diagnosis by 45% (IRR, 1.45; 95% CI, 1.39-1.52). Any history of hospitalization for infection increased the risk of later mood disorders by 62% (IRR, 1.62; 95% CI, 1.60-1.64). The 2 risk factors interacted in synergy and increased the risk of subsequent mood disorders even further (IRR, 2.35; 95% CI, 2.25-2.46). The number of infections and autoimmune diseases increased the risk of mood disorders in a dose-response relationship. Approximately one-third (32%) of the participants diagnosed as having a mood disorder had a previous hospital contact because of an infection, whereas 5% had a previous hospital contact because of an autoimmune disease.
Conclusions and relevance: Autoimmune diseases and infections are risk factors for subsequent mood disorder diagnosis. These associations seem compatible with an immunologic hypothesis for the development of mood disorders in subgroups of patients.