There has been some media attention recently about lupus, especially since celebrity Selena Gomez opened up about what it’s like to live with the condition on the Ellen Show earlier this year.
While there’s a chance you’ve heard the word lupus, chances are you don’t know too much about it. For example, did you know it’s an autoimmune disease that can harm the skin, kidneys, heart, nervous system, blood cells, and other parts of the body, depending on its severity? It can also result in a range of common symptoms including fatigue, joint pain and rashes, seeing it often confused with other conditions like rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia.
There’s no question it’s a complicated disease. To get a better understanding of lupus, please read on…
What is Lupus?
Lupus is widely misunderstood. It is commonly believed to be contagious or infectious. It isn’t. Lupus is an autoimmune disease.
In a normal, healthy immune system the body recognises and destroys foreign objects like bacteria and viruses. With autoimmune diseases, however, the immune system starts to attack objects that are not foreign. Hence the term “auto” (self) “immune.”
With lupus, the immune system produces an excess of antibodies that attach themselves to various structures in the body. The accumulation of these antibodies in the tissues can cause inflammation, damage and pain.
What causes lupus?
Despite many years of research, the cause of lupus is still not known. Scientists believe there are several things that may trigger the formation of the antibodies, including genetic, hormonal and environmental factors. Some of the possible triggers include:
- Hormones (females between the age of 15 and 45 are most commonly affected)
- Certain medications
- Dietary factors
- Viruses and bacteria
- Exposure to UV light
Who is affected by lupus?
Although lupus can affect anybody, 90% of lupus patients are women. Of these, 90% develop the condition during their reproductive years.
Children may also be affected. Most children are diagnosed around puberty, although there are rare cases in children younger than 5 years. Symptoms of childhood lupus are similar to adult lupus, although they are usually more serious. For this reason, children are generally given more aggressive treatment that aims to control the disease before it involves major organs.
Lupus is much more rare in men than women (occurring at a rate of approximately one man for every nine women) but does occur. Unlike women, who tend to develop the disease between the ages of 15 and 45 years, there is no distinct “risk period” where men are more likely to present with lupus. Men tend to experience slightly different symptoms that are often more severe than in women.
Few people develop lupus in old age and it is generally a much milder disease. Those who have had lupus for some time will usually find that their lupus calms down, with only a few symptoms such as photosensitivity and joint pain persisting.
Signs and symptoms
Lupus is a variable condition in both symptoms and their severity. In some patients, symptoms appear suddenly and are relatively severe, while in others the disease remains at a low level for several years before diagnosis.
Lupus can also be unpredictable. For some people, symptoms subside after treatment of the initial acute attack. For others, periods of “remission” are punctuated by brief “flare-ups” of disease.
Several symptoms may be seen in the initial stages of lupus. These include:
- Fatigue, weakness and lethargy
- Joint pain or swelling
- Skin rashes
Lupus is a serious condition that must be diagnosed by a doctor. If you have concerns, consult a GP at Mingara Medical on 02 4302 3333.
Source: Lupus Association of NSW, Inc.