Are you one of the two-thirds1 of the public who know little or nothing about Lupus? The Lupus Foundation of America is trying to change that through an awareness campaign, proclaiming May to be Lupus Awareness Month, and Supplementally Speaking is happy to do our part to help raise awareness.
Who it affects
Lupus affects nearly 1.5 million Americans and is more prevalent among women. 90 percent of those diagnosed are females who first show symptoms during childbearing ages. Additionally, the disease is three times more likely to develop in African American women and two times more common in Asian American and Latina women.2
What it is
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. Normally when the immune system detects a bacteria or virus, it creates antibodies to protect itself, but in the case of diseases like lupus, the immune system mistakenly identifies healthy tissues as bad and creates autoantibodies that fight against the body. These autoantibodies cause the inflammation and pain that lead to the symptoms of lupus.
Known in the medical community as the “great imitator”, this disease’s symptoms are also common in other illnesses, so the condition can be difficult to diagnose. Lyme disease, thyroid disease, blood disorders, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis are just some the diseases that lupus can mimic. And the symptoms can vary from person to person, come and go, or change completely over the course of the disease, making finding the cause even harder.3
How it feels
So, what are the most common ways that lupus presents? The list of symptoms includes headaches, fever, anemia, hair loss, abnormal blood clotting, sensitivity to sun or natural light, swelling in hands and feet or around the eyes, painful or swollen joints, skin rash, and extreme fatigue. People experiencing symptoms like these and others can assist in their own diagnosis by keeping detailed, accurate records of how they feel and what they’re experiencing to share with their doctor.3
How it’s diagnosed
Unfortunately, there is no diagnostic test to identify this elusive disease. Doctors consider current symptoms, laboratory tests, a patient’s medical history and their family medical history to determine if symptoms are caused by lupus. While no single test result or symptom indicates lupus on its own, the case builds as several diagnostic criteria become apparent at the same time. The way the disease presents and the fact that it’s different for everyone means the diagnostic process can take time.4
Usually, a rheumatologist treats patients with lupus, but other doctors may be needed, depending on the organs affected. Talking about specific needs and concerns will help determine the best medical team for each lupus patient, who may use a combination of many different medicines to get the disease under control. These drugs range from mild to strong, and include pharmaceuticals such as corticosteroids, anti-malarials, immunosuppressives and anti-inflammatory drugs. Complementary treatments may alleviate pain, such as acupuncture, meditation, yoga, regular exercise and guided imagery.5
Many drugs are currently under investigation for treating lupus . While there is no cure, it’s important to work closely with your doctor to set treatment goals that reduce symptoms and damage from the disease, to live a healthy life with good nutrition and physical activity, and to keep stress under control. Thanks to awareness brought to the disease by Lupus Awareness Month link opens in a new window and other efforts, people diagnosed with lupus can go on to experience full, high-quality lives.6,7
1 "Lupus Facts and Statistics | National Resource Center on Lupus." Lupus Resource Center. Lupus Foundation of America, 24 Feb. 2017. Web. 20 May 2017.
2 "Who Gets Lupus." Who Gets Lupus | S.L.E. Lupus Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2017.
3 "Common symptoms of lupus | National Resource Center on Lupus." Lupus Resource Center. Lupus Foundation of America, 01 May 2017. Web. 20 May 2017.
4 "How lupus is diagnosed: An overview | National Resource Center on Lupus." Lupus Resource Center. Lupus Foundation of America, 26 Apr. 2017. Web. 20 May 2017.
5 "Finding the treatment approach for you | National Resource Center on Lupus." Lupus Resource Center. Lupus Foundation of America, 28 Mar. 2017. Web. 20 May 2017.
6 "Complementary treatments for pain | National Resource Center on Lupus." Lupus Resource Center. Lupus Foundation of America, 03 Apr. 2017. Web. 20 May 2017.
7 "Treatments being studied for lupus | National Resource Center on Lupus." Lupus Resource Center. Lupus Foundation of America, 02 May 2017. Web. 20 May 2017.