What is Lupus?
Published: February 03, 2010
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a disease of the immune system, whereby the body’s defense mechanism begins to attack itself through excess production of antibodies in the blood. The illness can affect any organ in the body and symptoms can be incredibly diverse. So much so, that it has even been branded an imitator of other illnesses.
There is still no known cure for lupus, although in most cases it can be controlled. The Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus.
Accoring to lupus.about.com, the term lupus was coined by a thirteenth century physician because the disease looked like wolf bites (lupus in latin means wolf).
What causes Lupus?
Although the exact causes are unknown, some factors are known to trigger the condition and some people are more at risk than others. LFA has these figures:
- 90% of sufferers are women with the majority being of child-bearing age. It is also two to three times more prevalent among non- Caucasian females
- 20% of people with lupus will have a parent or sibling who is already a sufferer or may develop it
- About 5% of the children born to individuals with lupus will develop the illness
An alteration to the immune system is usually at the root of the problem. So, the disease is most likely to take hold during a time of hormonal and immune system change. Lupus West Midlands says:
- Puberty or menopause
- After childbirth
- After a viral infection
- After a traumatic event
- As a result of a prolonged course of medication
What are the symptoms?
As mentioned, symptoms can vary greatly. St Thomas’ Lupus Trust lists some common ones:
- Hair loss, which is usually the first sign of the disease
- Skin rashes, often on cheeks and bridge of nose
- Fatigue may be the most common symptom, sometimes accompanied by memory problems and depression
- Dry eyes as a result of poor tear secretion
- Pain in the joints, not dissimilar to pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis
How is it diagnosed?
There are multiple ways of screening for the disease. But due to its deceptive nature, it often takes time to be diagnosed.
A LFA survey of its members suggests that more than half of those afflicted with lupus suffered at least four years, and saw three or more doctors before obtaining a correct diagnosis of lupus. Nearly half of those surveyed were first examined by a rheumatologist.
How is it treated?
There are many different types of medication, in varying degress of strength, which primarily aim to supress the overactive immune system and reduce inflamation. Most patients get better over a period of time. St Thomas’ Lupus Trust lists the four common drug groups used to treat the condition:
- Aspirin and Non Steroidals
Celebrities known to have the condition include British singer Seal, who has a strain of the disease called discoid lupus erythematosus. This primarily affects the skin.
Image: Wikimedia Commons