One and a half-million Americans have lupus, a condition where the body's own immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs. Researchers said nine out of 10 people with lupus are women, and it usually appears in the childbearing years.
Canisha Spence is pregnant with her second child. After her first child, seven years ago, a blood test showed her platelet count was low and she was losing hair.
"It was like patches, clean, no hair, and I went to the dermatologist to find out what was going on," Spence said.
Spence was diagnosed with lupus. Other symptoms may also include arthritis or joint pain, low-grade fever, weight loss, rashes and severe symptoms like chest pain, kidney or brain disease and even stroke.
Health experts said it can lie dormant and then flare up, especially during a time like pregnancy.
"We think that the increased estrogen levels that occur during pregnancy are what probably promote the increased activity of lupus," said Dr. Meagan Clowse, a Duke rheumatologist.
Clowse led a study looking at hospital admissions across the country over three years where lupus and pregnancy were involved.
The results show that one in three pregnant women with lupus had a Caesaran section. One in five developed hypertension in pregnancy called preeclampsia. Less than 1 percent had stroke, severe infections or death.
The risk to mother and baby were not as high as Clowse expected, but the risks cannot be ignored.
"They need to be monitored very closely during their pregnancy and they might have a much higher risk of having a pre-term birth or delivering the baby early," Clowse said.
Some medications typically prescribed for lupus patients can be continued during pregnancy, but others should be stopped when a pregnancy is planned. Spence did not have that luxury.
"I feel, maybe, if I would have planned it a little more, maybe I could have bypassed some of the complications I have had," she said.
Health officials said there is also a strong genetic link for lupus. If you have a family history of lupus or you experience some of the symptoms mentioned in the story, health experts suggest talking with your doctor or a rheumatologist.