What is Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, where the immune system attacks and causes inflammation in a person’s healthy tissue. Lupus can affect the joints, skin, blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, heart, nervous system, or any other organ system in the body. People with lupus usually first get it as teenagers or as young adults, but people of all ages can be diagnosed with lupus.
Approximately 1,500,000 people in the United States have lupus, with 90% of those people being women. Although people of all races can get lupus, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than white women. African Americans and Hispanics also tend to develop lupus at a younger age and have more symptoms, including kidney disease, by the time they are diagnosed. Although doctors don’t know what causes lupus, it is believed that lupus is caused by a combination of factors, including genetics and environmental factors such as exposure to stress or viruses.
Here are some important facts about lupus:
- Lupus is not contagious. You cannot catch lupus from someone else or give it to someone else.
- Lupus is not cancer and it is not AIDS.
- Although lupus is a serious health problem that mainly affects young women, most people with lupus have a relatively mild condition.
- There is no known cure for lupus, but there is a great deal of research being done to determine what causes lupus and how to treat it.
There are three main types of lupus:
- Cutaneous Lupus. Lupus that affects only the skin; approximately 10% of the people diagnosed with lupus have cutaneous lupus. Discoid lupus is a form of cutaneous lupus that is more serious and can result in scarring.
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). The most serious form of lupus, affecting one or more organ systems; approximately 70% of the people diagnosed with lupus have SLE. About half the people with SLE have a major organ affected, such as the kidneys, brain, lungs, or heart.
- Drug-Induced Lupus. Lupus caused by certain medications; affects approximately 10% of the people diagnosed with lupus. Lupus symptoms go away when the medication is stopped.
Symptoms of lupus tend to come and go, and can mimic other diseases, especially in the beginning. There are times when the disease quiets down or goes into remission. At other times lupus flares up and become active.
The common symptoms of lupus include:
- Red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the bridge of the nose
- Painful or swollen joints
- Extreme fatigue
- Unexplained fever
- Chest pain with breathing
- Unusual loss of hair
- Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress
- Sensitivity to the sun
- Low blood count
- Mouth sores
Other symptoms of lupus can include:
- Unexplained fits or convulsions, hallucinations, or depression
- Repeated miscarriages
- Strokes and heart problems
- Unexplained kidney problems
These symptoms are common in other diseases. However, if you have any of these symptoms, especially when two or more occur together, it is important to discuss them with your doctor.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Lupus is usually diagnosed and treated by a rheumatologist, who specializes in diagnosing and treating arthritis and other rheumatic diseases. Joint and muscle pain can be early signs of lupus, but can also be signs of arthritis. A rheumatologist is best able to determine whether the problem is related to lupus or another condition. Other doctors are usually involved in the treatment of lupus patients, depending on the symptoms and the organs that are affected.
People with lupus are usually treated with a combination of medications and lifestyle management. Medications treat symptoms, lessen flares of the disease, and prevent permanent organ damage. Lifestyle management may include getting extra rest, minimizing stress, and eating a nutritious, healthy diet. For people with lupus who are sensitive to sunlight, precautions are needed when being in sunlight. Those people may also need to take precautions indoors when exposed to fluorescent lighting.
- Lupus Foundation of Northern California provides resources, education, and support to lupus patients, families, and friends in northern California.
- The Lupus Initiative is an education program for medical professionals and patients. Its education programs are designed to reduce health disparities experienced by patients with lupus by improving the diagnosis and treatment of patient populations disproportionately affected based on race, ethnicity, and gender.