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What is Lupus?

what is lupus, lupus awareness month, lupus riskMay is National Lupus Awareness Month, and the Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans and 5 million people worldwide have some form of lupus.[1] Yet, research shows that nearly two-thirds of the public knows little or nothing about this disease.[2] As such, in observance of Lupus Awareness month, we would like to provide some basic information about lupus and help spread awareness.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system begins to defend itself against healthy tissue; it can damage many parts of the body, including[3],[4]:

  • Joints
  • Skin
  • Kidneys
  • Heart
  • Lungs
  • Blood vessels
  • Brain

There are many kinds of lupus; however, the most common type is systemic lupus erythematosus, which affects many parts of the body.[5]

Lupus is not contagious, and it is not like or related to cancer or HIV.[6]

What are the symptoms?

Because lupus symptoms often mimic those of other ailments (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, blood disorders, diabetes, fibromyalgia), the disease can be difficult to diagnose.[7],[8] According to the Lupus Foundation of America, 63 percent of people with lupus surveyed reported being incorrectly diagnosed and 55 percent of those reporting incorrect diagnosis reported seeing four or more different healthcare providers for their lupus symptoms before being accurately diagnosed.[9]

It is said that no two cases of lupus are alike.[10] Symptoms range from mild to severe and temporary to permanent; they vary based on which body systems are affected by the disease.[11]

Common lupus signs and symptoms, which are the same across genders, include the following[12]:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • A butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Swelling in the feet, legs, hands and/or around the eyes
  • Pain in chest on deep breathing
  • Sun or light sensitivity
  • Hair loss
  • Abnormal blood clotting
  • Mouth or nose ulcers
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon – fingers turn white and/or blue when cold

Diagnosing lupus can take some time. On average, it takes nearly six years for people with lupus to be diagnosed from the time they first notice their symptoms.[13] As such, visit your healthcare provider as soon as possible if you are experiencing symptoms.

A diagnosis will be made using several tools such as medical history, a complete exam, blood tests, a skin biopsy and/or a kidney biopsy.[14]

If you are having an emergency medical situation, call 9-1-1.

Is there a cure for lupus?

Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening, and there is no cure for the disease at this time.[15],[16] However, the disease can be treated to manage symptoms, prevent flares and reduce damage.

Treatment may include medication and involve many doctors and specialists, including a family doctor, rheumatologists, cardiologists, neurologists, psychologists and clinical immunologists, to name a few.[17]

It is recommended that lupus patients learn about their disease and individual warning signs of a flare, take an active role in their treatment, see a doctor even when they have mild symptoms, exercise, get enough rest, eat a well-balanced and nutritious diet, find ways to cope with the stress of having lupus, and develop a good support system.[18],[19]

Who is at risk?

While the disease affects men and women, women account for 90 percent of individuals diagnosed with lupus.[20]

Additional risk factors for lupus include:

Age – Lupus is most often diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 40; however, it affects people of all ages.[21]

Race – Lupus is two to three times more prevalent among women of color—African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders—than among Caucasian women.[22]

Heredity – Twenty percent of people with lupus will have a parent or sibling who already has lupus or may develop lupus, and about 5 percent of the children born to individuals with lupus will develop the illness.[23]

Is lupus preventable?

There is no known cause of lupus.[24] However, research shows that the disease may result form a combination of genetics and environment.[25],[26]According to MayoClinic.com, “It appears people with an inherited predisposition for lupus may develop the disease when they come into contact with something in the environment that can trigger lupus.” Potential triggers include sunlight, infections and certain medications (e.g., seizure and blood pressure medications, antibiotics).[27]

If you want to learn more about lupus on your own, visit the Lupus Research Institute and Lupus Foundation of America websites. If you have personal concerns, discuss them with your healthcare provider.

 


 

[1] Lupus Foundation of America. “Press Kit: Statistics on Lupus.” Accessed on May 10, 2016. http://www.lupus.org/about/statistics-on-lupus

[2] Lupus Foundation of America. Lupus Awareness Month Homepage. Accessed May 11, 2016. http://www.lupusawarenessmonth.org

[3] Lupus Foundation of America. “Get Answers: Understanding Lupus.” http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/what-is-lupus

[4] National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “What is Lupus?” Nov. 2014. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/lupus/lupus_ff.asp

[5] Ibid.

[6] Lupus Foundation of America. “Get Answers: Understanding Lupus.” http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/what-is-lupus

[7] Lupus Foundation of America. “Get Answers: Diagnosing Lupus.” Medically reviewed May 28, 2013. http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/common-symptoms-of-lupus

[8] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Lupus.” Last updated Nov. 18, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/basics/definition/con-20019676

[9] Lupus Foundation of America. “Press Kit: Statistics on Lupus.” Accessed on May 10, 2016. http://www.lupus.org/about/statistics-on-lupus

[10] Lupus Foundation of America. “No Two Cases Are Alike.” Accessed May 11, 2016. http://lupusresearchinstitute.org/lupus-facts

[11] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Lupus.” Last updated Nov. 18, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/basics/definition/con-20019676

[12] Lupus Foundation of America. “Get Answers: Diagnosing Lupus.” Medically reviewed May 28, 2013. http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/common-symptoms-of-lupus

[13] Ibid.

[14] National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “What is Lupus?” Nov. 2014. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/lupus/lupus_ff.asp

[15] Lupus Foundation of America. “Get Answers: Understanding Lupus.” http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/what-is-lupus

[16] Lupus Research Institute. “Lupus Treatments.” Accessed May 10, 2016. http://lupusresearchinstitute.org/lupus-facts/lupus-treatments

[17] National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “What is Lupus?” Nov. 2014. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/lupus/lupus_ff.asp

[18] Ibid.

[19] Lupus Research Institute. “Smart Moves.” Accessed May 10, 2016. http://lupusresearchinstitute.org/lupus-facts/lupus-lifestyle

[20] Lupus Foundation of America. “Press Kit: Statistics on Lupus.” Accessed on May 10, 2016. http://www.lupus.org/about/statistics-on-lupus

[21] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Lupus.” Last updated Nov. 18, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/basics/definition/con-20019676

[22] Lupus Foundation of America. “Press Kit: Statistics on Lupus.” Accessed on May 10, 2016. http://www.lupus.org/about/statistics-on-lupus

[23] Ibid.

[24] National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “What is Lupus?” Nov. 2014. http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/lupus/lupus_ff.asp

[25] Ibid.

[26] Mayo Clinic Staff. “Lupus: Causes.” Last updated Nov. 18, 2014. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lupus/basics/definition/con-20019676

[27] Ibid.

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