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What’s that Disease? Lupus


Aren’t there times when you see a disease mentioned in a headline, but you don’t read the article? We don’t want you to be in the dark about these illnesses that are on the health radar screen. This month, we’re going to cut through some of the lengthy information you’d get in those articles. Instead, we’ll give you a concise description of what the disease is, what the treatments are and how the disease is contracted.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that deaths from lupus haven sharply increased in recent years. The rate is highest for middle-aged African-American women.

What is lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. It causes the body to attack its own organ and tissues, including the joints, kidneys, heart, lung, brain, blood or skin.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms vary greatly from person to person. They can range from mild to life threatening. For some people, the disease can go into remission, and symptoms are not present. Most people experience the symptoms in only a few organs, but the disease can affect the entire body. Symptoms include:

  • Achy joints
  • Prolonged fatigue
  • Fever higher than 100 degrees F,
  • Skin rashes
  • Kidney problems
  • Anemia
  • Hair loss
  • Pain in the chest when breathing deeply
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth or nose ulcers
  • Seizures
  • Problems with blood clotting

What are the different types of lupus?
The least severe type is called discoid lupus. This accounts for about 10 percent of lupus cases, and affects only the skin.

Systemic lupus is more severe. It can affect the skin, joints and almost any organ of the body. This accounts for about 70 percent of cases.

Some individuals develop lupus after taking medication, but the symptoms usually fade after the drug is discontinued.

How prevalent is lupus?
The Lupus Foundation of American estimates that about 1,400,000 Americans have some form of the disease. It occurs 10 to 15 times more frequently in adult women than men. Lupus is most likely to develop between the ages of 15 and 44.

The disease is two to three times more common for African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans than for Caucasians. About 10 percent of people with lupus have a close relative with the condition.

Can I catch lupus from anyone else?

How does a person get lupus?
Nobody knows for sure. There are some theories that lupus can be triggered by infections, antibiotics, ultraviolet light (sunlight) extreme stress, and hormonal factors. But these are just theories, and there is no real proof.

How is lupus diagnosed?
It’s difficult to diagnose lupus, because the symptoms mimic those of many other conditions, and because the symptoms often come and go. A complete medical history and examination, plus an analysis of health over a period of time, can usually help a doctor to determine whether lupus is present. There is no specific laboratory test that can identify the disease.

How is lupus treated?
Because the disease varies so greatly from person to person, there are many ways to treat it. It’s extremely important for anyone with the condition to be monitored regularly to ensure that treatment is targeting the symptoms appropriately. Treatment can include

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
  • Acetaminophen
  • Corticosteroids
  • Antimalarials
  • Immunomodulating drugs

Additionally, your doctor or a nutritionist should talk with your about making sure your diet is healthy. They can give you suggestions about any changes you need to make, and recommend appropriate exercise as well.

Stress management can also be an important part of lupus control. Talk with your doctor about this too.

The American Liver Foundation; The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; The Lupus Foundation of America; The New York Times, 25 February 2002, 14 May 2002
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