Although lupus may still be unknown to some, at present more than 1.5 million Americans suffer from this incurable autoimmune disease. According to statistical data, 90% of the affected are women. Lupus symptoms normally appear between the ages 15-45.
Lupus is a lifelong condition, but there are a number of treatments that can keep it under control.
What Is Lupus?
Just like with any other autoimmune disease, lupus is characterized by an autoimmune response. In other words, the immune system mistakes the body’s own tissues as foreign invaders and attacks them.
There are a number of contributing factors that can trigger the outbreak of lupus symptoms. Generally these include genetic, hormonal, environmental and immune system factors. Medications and hormonal imbalance can also be a risk factor.
Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are the two most common varieties of the disease. The first one affects skin exposed to sunlight, whereas the second affects skin and internal organs.
Systemic lupus can be really dangerous because it attacks the connective tissue in the joints, muscles, and skin, as well as the membranes around or within the lungs, heart, kidneys, and brain. This condition can also lead to kidney disease and brain damage.
The only option patients are left with is keeping their condition under control by treating symptoms and avoiding triggers such as sunlight, infection and some medication. It’s been found that stress, extreme temperature changes and inflammatory foods can worsen the condition.
Conventional lupus treatment includes anti-inflammatory drugs, immune suppressants and chemotherapy.
The treatment also involves direct patient by a rheumatologist, cardiologist, nephrologist, neurologist and gastroenterologist to control organ damage. Possible health complications are managed with medications including diuretics, antihypertensive drugs, anticonvulsants, antibiotics and bone-strengthening drugs.
There are also natural ways to deal with the condition and these include eating anti-inflammatory foods, taking fish oil and vitamin D from food sources and supplements.
Common complications include:
- Celiac disease
- Pernicious anemia
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Reactive arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Graves’ disease
- Sjögren’s syndrome
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Addison’s disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Other immune disorders
What Is Like to Live with Lupus?
In the words of Mallory Dixon, 29, for Medical Daily “It’s a disability that you cannot describe because the whole thing about lupus is it’s so unpredictable.”
What makes lupus so serious is the fact that it’s different for each person. In other words your condition must be observed closely by your doctor and treatment must be adapted to your specific needs.
In addition, lupus symptoms often resemble symptoms of other diseases, which is why many lupus patients get multiple failed diagnoses before being diagnosed with lupus. This was also the case with Dixon, who was initially diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 17, but was unable to either understand or manage her other symptoms for years.
In time, her condition was linked to psychological issues rather than physical and she was advised to see a therapist. “One of my doctors told my parent I might need to see a therapist.”
She was finally diagnosed with lupus six years after her initial rheumatoid arthritis diagnosis. However, the right diagnosis didn’t mean an end to Dixon’s ordeal. Two years later she was medically dead and was kept on life support for 86 days. She was in a coma, unable to breathe on her own and was on chemotherapy and dialyses treatment. Worst of all, she had suffered permanent kidney damage because of lupus.
Dixon still has to put up with the effects of her condition, but she continues to raise awareness about lupus hoping that people will recognize and manage their symptoms. She actually offers to provide women with early access to medical help in order to minimize organ damage.
She said “They do think with early prevention we can keep lupus from spreading to organs like the kidneys or in some cases, a patient’s heart or brain.”
What makes lupus even more difficult to bear is the fact that most lupus patients don’t get either emotional or medical support they depend on in the early stages of their disease. According to Stothers, a registered nurse, “some people look completely normal yet they feel awful; doing the smallest task is impossible.” In fact, lupus can be really isolating, because most patients don’t have obvious symptoms, which is why their family or even their doctor are often skeptical.
Even worse, lupus symptoms usually resemble symptoms of other diseases making it even more difficult to diagnose. “Lupus does not run in my family,” Dixon said. “The only thing that does run in my family is psoriasis, which is another autoimmune disorder.”
Signs That You May Be Affected by the Condition
People who have a family history of lupus or experience a multitude of medical conditions are particularly at risk of this autoimmune disorder. These are the most common symptoms to follow:
- Fever with no known cause
- Pain or swelling in joints
- Muscle pain
- Swelling in legs or around eyes
- Pale or purple fingers or toes
- Red rashes, most often on the face
- Chest pain when taking a deep breath
- Hair loss
- Sensitivity to the sun
- Mouth ulcers
- Swollen glands
- Feeling very tired
- Anemia (a decrease in red blood cells)
- Dizzy spells
- Feeling sad