May is Lupus Awareness Month. Lupus (also called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus) is a disease that effects 1.5 million people in the U.S., according to the Lupus Foundation of America. A 2019 survey found that 63% of Americans have never heard of lupus or have little information about the chronic illness. Here is what you need to know:
Lupus is an autoimmune disease
Lupus causes your immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs in the body. The body creates antibodies which attack your own cells.
The chronic disease most commonly attacks your kidneys, skin, joints, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs. Lupus may not affect all of these in each patient.
Lupus is often tough to identify because its symptoms are similar to other illnesses. Here are the most common signs and symptoms from the Mayo Clinic:
- Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
- Butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose or rashes elsewhere on the body
- Skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure
- Fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods
- Dry eyes
- Headaches, confusion and memory loss
It is important to remember that these symptoms may also occur with other illnesses. A doctor can perform an examination and tests to see whether a patient has lupus or a different condition.
Risks for developing lupus
Lupus is more common in women. A lupus diagnosis usually occurs between the ages of 15-45 years old. African Americans, Hispanics and Asian Americans account for the majority of lupus diagnoses. If fact, lupus diagnoses are two to three times more likely in African Americans compared to whites. You may also be at a greater risk if you have a family member with lupus. The disease may become more active during pregnancy, and require close monitoring.
Causes of lupus
In most cases, the cause of lupus is unknown. Experts believe it is possible to trigger lupus if you have a genetic predisposition for the disease, by hormonal changes, or by environmental factors.
There is currently no cure for lupus. You can manage lupus symptoms through a proper treatment plan created by your doctor. Treatment includes monitoring regularly. It may also include medications to help with symptoms, prevent worsening, and block the disease process. Health providers choose medicines very carefully. Medication selection depends on what other conditions a patient has, how severe the lupus is, and which features of lupus are the most active. Medications might include plaquenil, prednisone, imuran or benlysta.