Association of Childhood Abuse with Incident Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in Adulthood in a Longitudinal Cohort of Women

J Rheumatol. 2019 Dec;46(12):1589-1596. doi: 10.3899/jrheum.190009. Epub 2019 May 15.


Objective: Exposure to severe stressors may alter immune function and augment inflammation and cytokine release, increasing risk of autoimmune disease. We examined whether childhood abuse was associated with a heightened risk of incident systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Methods: Data were drawn from the Nurses' Health Study II, a cohort of US female nurses enrolled in 1989, followed with biennial questionnaires. We measured childhood physical and emotional abuse with the Physical and Emotional Abuse Subscale of the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire and sexual abuse with the Sexual Maltreatment Scale of the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale, both administered in 2001. We identified incident SLE (≥ 4 American College of Rheumatology 1997 classification criteria) through 2015. We used multivariable Cox regression models to evaluate the association between childhood abuse and SLE, accounting for potential confounders (e.g., parental education, occupation, home ownership) and mediators [e.g., depression, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)].

Results: Among 67,516 women, there were 94 cases of incident SLE. In adjusted models, exposure to the highest versus lowest physical and emotional abuse was associated with 2.57 times greater risk of SLE (95% CI 1.30-5.12). We found that 17% (p < 0.0001) of SLE risk associated with abuse could be explained by depression and 23% (p < 0.0001) by PTSD. We did not observe a statistically significant association with sexual abuse (HR 0.84, 95% CI 0.40-1.77, highest vs lowest exposure).

Conclusion: We observed significantly increased risk of SLE among women who had experienced childhood physical and emotional abuse compared with women who had not. Exposure to childhood adversity may contribute to development of SLE.


Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Adult Survivors of Child Abuse*
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies