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Lupus

Lupus sexual assault

06/26/2003

Question:

I have a relative who was sexually assaulted and diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress syndrome. Subsequently, she became very ill with lupus. Could there be a connection between the sexual assault and the lupus?

Answer:

I did some more research on your question and found that a research group in Germany actually analyzed the effect of acute psychological stress on immune responses in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, lupus) and healthy individuals. They found that the functions of an important cell type, natural killer cells, increased in healthy controls only. There was a stress-induced increase in interleukin (IL)-4-producing (IL-4(+)) cells in SLE patients only, whereas interferon (IFN) gamma(+) cell numbers increased due to stress in all three groups. An analysis of supernatants from phytohaemagglutinin (PHA) cultures revealed increased IFN gamma and IL-10 levels in healthy subjects but not in SLE or RA patients after stress exposure. This research does not establish a cause-effect link between stress and autoimmune diseases such as lupus. It does, however, suggest that stress can modify one`s immune responses, which MIGHT be responsible for stress-induced flare in RA and SLE patients.

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Response by:

Ram Raj   Singh, MD Ram Raj Singh, MD
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati