Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects virtually the entire body, from your hair to your heart. Only six decades ago, being diagnosed with lupus was tantamount to a death sentence, with about half of all patients surviving as few as four years. Today most cases of lupus are manageable as a chronic disease, especially for people who have the right attitude and approach to treatment.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a malfunction of the immune system that causes the body to attack its own healthy tissues. The resulting pain, inflammation, and damage can affect nearly every part of the body, and manifest in a wide range of symptoms on a case-by-case basis. Those symptoms may range from mild to life-threatening, but with treatment, about nine out of ten people with lupus will have a normal lifespan.
Unfortunately even with treatment, lupus comes with certain risks. Lupus can lead to kidney damage and reduced kidney function, as well as increased risk for heart disease, heart attack, blood clots, and miscarriages. Inflammation in the brain can lead to memory loss, headaches, seizures, or affect your mood. And because people with lupus are commonly prescribed an immunosuppressant, they may be vulnerable to infection.
Besides the systemic lupus described above, there are two other types of lupus. The first is drug-induced lupus, a mild form of lupus caused by certain medications, which is typically cured when the medication is stopped. The second is cutaneous lupus, which is a form primarily affecting the skin. Rashes may appear anywhere on the body, potentially lasting years, and may lead to sores and scarring.
Who Gets Lupus?
More than 1.5 million Americans have lupus. About 90% of those with lupus are women ages 15-44, but anyone of any age can develop lupus.As with many occurring autoimmune disorders, family history increases your risk. Women of color are also twice more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians, and using medications associate with drug-induced lupus can also increase your risk of developing systemic lupus.
Symptoms & Warning Signs
Combined with the fact that many of the symptoms of lupus are easily mistaken for other diseases, it can take years to diagnose. The difficulty is only increased by the fact that symptoms vary from person to person, and those symptoms may go away and return many times as symptoms flare-up. Those flare-ups may be triggered by a number of things, including chemical exposure, UV light, smoking, as well as some infections and medications.
That said, there are 11 common criteria physicians use to diagnose lupus:
- Nose or mouth ulcers
- Discoid rash,
- Malar rash on the cheeks and nose
- Arthritis in at least two joints
- Cardio-pulmonary inflammation
- Neurological disorders
- Kidney disorders
- Blood disorders
- Immunological disorders, and
- Discovery of antinuclear antibodies in the blood.
With at least four of these 11 symptoms present, physicians can generally make a diagnosis of lupus.
Treatment: Today and Tomorrow
While there’s no cure, treatment can help alleviate symptoms and reduce the risk of organ damage. Corticosteroids or similar drugs can suppress the immune system to reduce the intensity of its attack on itself, and over-the-counter acetaminophen can be used to alleviate arthritic-symptoms. Dietary improvements, rest, avoiding direct sunlight, and stress management have also proven to be effective at helping many people manage their lupus.
While a lupus diagnosis can be seem imposing or scary at first, treatment is effective, and it’s getting better all the time. With the constant advancement and development of new drugs and therapies, lupus patients have more than hope for a better future; they have a near guarantee of a steadily improving treatment options until we beat lupus for good!
Do you or someone you love have lupus? How do you manage your condition? What do you still struggle with? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.