The word “disease” often invokes images of invading bacteria or a cancerous tumor; in other words, something foreign that can be eliminated with the right treatment. But what happens when the root cause of an illness is the body itself? That’s the problem researchers face when studying autoimmune conditions like lupus.
Lupus is the result of an overactive immune system that cannot differentiate between foreign cells and those belonging to the patient, resulting in systemic inflammation in and outside the body. Symptoms vary widely and can include extreme fatigue, joint pain, rash, hair loss, anxiety, depression and fever.
For Mitra, who manages an autoimmune condition similar to lupus, these symptoms appear as arthritis in her hands and feet and a butterfly-shaped rash on her face and chest, along with exhaustion so bad, she often sleeps through her weekends after a tough week.
“The worst part is being tired all the time,” Mitra says. “Sometimes I push myself too hard, and I’m out for days.”