Ask the medical experts and they will tell you that it is an autoimmune disease, a condition in which something goes wrong with the body’s immune system – which is supposed to fight off viruses, bacteria, and germs – causing it to attack healthy tissue resulting in inflammation and damage in different organs of the body. Its full name is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), “lupus” for short. The “systemic” indicates that it affects many organs—the whole system. The “erythematosus,” from the Greek word for “red,” describes a certain kind of rash and refers to the part of the body most noticeably affected in lupus: the skin. “Lupus” is Latin for “wolf”, mainly to describe facial lesions that ate into the skin and looked like a wolf bite. For the moment forget about the wolf, think instead of the butterfly, a word used to describe a painful rash that appears on the faces of many people with lupus. It fans out from the bridge of the nose across the cheeks and ranges in color from rose pink to angry red; though not so noticeable in Africans.
90% of Lupus patients are women especially of childbearing age but also occurs in children and adolescents. Men also can develop lupus and their disease can affect some organs more severely. The cause of lupus is unknown, but it has been associated with genetic, environmental, and infectious causes. The disorder may affect almost all organs in the body, with the kidney being most commonly involved. The disorder may be mild in some cases (for example, only involving the skin) and very severe in other cases (affecting multiple organs, including the brain). The disease course is characterized by flares (intervals of active disease) and remissions (intervals of inactive disease)
While lupus most often affects the joints and skin, causing arthritis and rash, respectively, it can affect any organ system of the body, including the heart, kidneys, lungs, blood, and brain. Because lupus can affect any organ of the body, it causes a wide range of symptoms with some of the more common ones being:
• Fatigue(in 80% of the people and can be debilitating for some)
• Fever (maximum temperature about 39°C)
• Muscle pain
• Hair loss
• Rash (typically in a “butterfly” distribution on the face, across the cheeks, and under the eyes)
• Painless ulcers in the mouth or nose
• Photosensitivity (the development of a rash on sun-exposed skin
There is no cure for lupus, but appropriate treatment can prevent or slow the disease process and control the associated symptoms. Lupus is treated with medications that target the body’s immune system. Medication choices depend on the severity of disease and the specific organs involved. Additional medications may be prescribed for specific symptoms, such as joint pain, and for other manifestations of the disorder, such as high blood pressure if there is kidney disease. As many as 40 percent of all people with lupus, and as many as two-thirds of all children with lupus, will develop kidney complications. People with lupus are leading healthier lives and living longer today, thanks to researchers who continue to discover more about the immune system. With current treatments, 80 to 90 percent of people with non-organ threatening lupus can look forward to having the same lifespan as people without lupus. Positive interactions between lupus patients and their doctors help to improve satisfaction with treatment and increase feelings of hope and well-being. Many symptoms of lupus imitate those of other illnesses, and can come and go over time, making diagnosis difficult. Consequently, it may take three to five years or more to diagnose lupus. For this reason, patients should consult with a rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in lupus).
Nevertheless, lupus is still a mysterious illness. Like its namesake, it lurks in the shadows of the forest and comes out at night to leave unexplained damage and devastation. And, like the animal in the fable wearing sheep’s clothing, it is difficult to recognize and often gets mistaken for something else.
Now you know a little more about Lupus! Go ahead and share with a friend! Let’s demystify Lupus!