Systemic Lupus Erythematosus—commonly known as lupus—is a type of autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases happen when the body’s immune system attacks itself. While some autoimmune diseases target specific organs or systems, such as the intestines, joints, or central nervous system, people with lupus develop antibodies against multiple tissues within the body. This makes lupus hard to diagnose, because it can mimic other autoimmune diseases.



Educational Materials: Lupus


People with lupus often experience serious kidney damage. This image depicts nephritis caused by lupus antibodies.


Crystal McMullen and her husband tried for several years to have a baby; after three miscarriages, she was finally able to carry a baby to term. About six months postpartum, she began experiencing random swelling in her lips, hands, and ankles, and she was tired all the time. Crystal’s mother had rheumatoid arthritis, so Crystal assumed she was developing that as well. She made an appointment with a rheumatologist, who ordered a battery of lab tests. The lab results, when coupled with Crystal’s history of miscarriages, pointed to systemic lupus erythematosus, often called systemic lupus.

After her initial diagnosis, Crystal was in denial. She didn’t take her medications, and as a result, suffered from “lupus flares” for three years. She had the usual laboratory markers: high white blood cell counts, elevated C-Reactive protein levels, and high ANA titers. Some days, her husband would have to carry her to the bathroom or help her dress because the disease had rendered her immobile.

Finally, she was able to work with her doctors to get the right combination of medications to put her body into a drug-induced remission. Today, Crystal is in full remission without any medication. She’s found certain triggers, such as citrus, alcohol, sleep deprivation, and stress—can make her symptoms appear, so she avoids those triggers as much as possible. In addition, paying attention to her laboratory results are a critical way for her and her doctors to manage her disease.