By: Community Health Associates
You may have heard about lupus due to increased media attention brought on by celebrities like singer Selena Gomez, who opened up about her experiences with the condition. Or, you may have a friend or family member who lives with lupus. Greater knowledge and attention about this chronic condition will hopefully lead to more people who have symptoms being diagnosed and treated.
What Is It?
Known by its medical names of either Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder affecting many bodily systems. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, lupus occurs when the body’s natural defenses mistake healthy body tissues for foreign threats and begin to attack itself. This may lead to damage to parts of the body, such as the brain, blood vessels, heart, joints, kidneys, lungs and skin. DLE typically affects areas of the skin touched by the sun.
Lupus can affect anyone, but is more common in women (nine out of 10 cases), especially women of color. African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American women commonly suffer from this condition.
What Causes Lupus?
The exact cause is unknown, although there does seem to be a genetic factor at play. However, various factors likely contribute to who develops the disease.
What Are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of lupus generally arise when a person is between the ages of 15 and 44. Symptoms may include:
- Abnormal blood cells
- Chest pain when breathing deeply
- Hair loss
- Joint pain
- Joint swelling
- Pale or purple fingers or toes
- Skin rashes
- Swelling around eyes
- Swollen glands
Depending on the body parts affected, individuals with this condition may experience additional symptoms. If you experience any of the above symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your primary care physician to determine if you have lupus.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose. Your doctor will need to conduct a review of your medical history, perform a physical exam and carry out special tests to obtain a diagnosis. The most effective tests for diagnosing lupus are blood tests that identify common characteristics found in the blood of those with lupus, such as the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. Your doctor must also have in-depth knowledge of lupus in order to properly rule out other conditions that may look similar, such as rheumatoid arthritis.
It’s important to know that lupus is a chronic disease in which the person affected will experience periods of both illness and wellness. There is no cure for lupus, although the condition can be managed to increase the quality of life for those who have it.
Effective treatment of lupus must be carried out by your primary care physician, who may work in concert with other specialists, such as a rheumatologist, endocrinologist, dermatologist, clinical immunologist and other physicians depending on the areas affected. Treatment generally includes medications that reduce flare-ups, minimize pain and swelling, enhance immune functioning, limit joint damage and regulate hormones among other functions.
Living with Lupus
Managing a chronic condition like lupus can take an emotional toll on a person. That’s why it’s important to work closely with your doctor to spot warning signs of a flare-up and take appropriate measures. You may also benefit from seeing a mental health provider, such as a psychologist, for help learning to manage stress and lead a fulfilling life with this disease. In addition, positive lifestyle changes, like eating a healthy, nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and getting plenty of rest, may also help you manage lupus.