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Does Stress Affect Lupus?

Medical Author: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Medical Editor: Leslie J. Schoenfield, MD, PhD

Let's start by discussing what is meant by stress. Stress means different things to different people based on their backgrounds and their current emotional and physical condition. For some people, milk spilling on the table causes a major emotional reaction. To others, a tank rolling through the living room might be viewed as just another life experience!

For the purpose of this topic, I will define stress as human reactions to forces that tend to disturb our normal functional (physiologic) balance (equilibrium). Stress, in this general sense, refers to any adverse condition or state that affects our normal well-being. Such stress can be imposed on us by, for example, work, a spouse, other people, ourselves, or by setting our daily schedule too rigorously.

For nearly all of us, our first real stress was being engulfed by cold air when we slipped from the warm comfort of our mother's womb. (I don't know about you, but I cried like a baby!)

In what ways may stress affect the patient with lupus?

First of all, in some lupus patients (as in people without lupus), stress may cause no direct or indirect effects. Stress, however, may affect a person with lupus in one of three ways.

  • Stress may cause the same reactions that can occur in any person who does not have lupus.
  • Stress can be associated with (precipitate or initiate) the first appearance of their lupus.
  • Stress may be associated with a flare-up of their already existing disease.

What reactions can stress cause in a person with lupus that are the same as in a healthy individual?

Many symptoms have been associated with stress in normal persons as well as those with lupus. These symptoms include:

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