Spreading the word about lupus

While you may have heard of lupus at one time or another, do really understand what it is? Read on to learn more about lupus, lupus symptoms, and treatment.

For most people, unless they have a family member affected by the condition, the answer is no. That’s why we’ve pulled together some answers to commonly asked questions about lupus — to help spread awareness of the disease and what it entails.

Q: What is lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune condition, meaning that it gets the body’s immune system out of whack. With any kind of autoimmune disease, the immune system turns against the body rather than helping to protect it.

Lupus causes inflammation throughout the body, which negatively affects multiple organs, including the skin, kidneys, lungs and brain. It can also cause damage to the joints.

There are several kinds of lupus:

  • Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common type of lupus and affects the entire body.
  • Cutaneous lupus erythematosus affects only the skin.
  • Drug-induced lupus is temporary and caused by certain medications.
  • Neonatal lupus is rare and affects newborn babies.

Q: Who does lupus affect?

More than 16,000 new cases of lupus are diagnosed each year, and more than 1.5 million Americans currently live with the condition. Worldwide, around 5 million people have lupus.

Lupus can develop in anyone, but it’s by far most common among women ages 15 to 44. That means women of childbearing age are at the greatest risk of developing the condition.

Lupus occurs 10 times more often in women than it does in men.

Among women, women of color are more likely to develop the condition. African-American women are three times as likely as Caucasian women to develop lupus, and the condition is also more common among Hispanic, Asian and Native-American women.

In addition to being more likely to develop the condition, African-American women are also more likely to be diagnosed at an earlier age and to suffer more severe symptoms.

Q: What are some common lupus symptoms?

Symptoms vary depending on the area of the body affected by the condition. But those with lupus may experience:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Fever
  • Anemia
  • Swelling in the extremities
  • Headaches
  • Painful or swollen joints
  • Hair loss
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Butterfly-shaped rash on face
  • Pain when breathing deeply

Because lupus causes inflammation throughout the entire body, it also raises a person’s risk of developing certain serious health conditions, including heart disease, kidney disease and osteoporosis, among others.

Of those, kidney disease is the most common. More than half of people with lupus develop kidney problems — a condition known as lupus nephritis. Because the signs of kidney problems are often silent, it’s important for those with lupus to undergo regular testing of kidney function.

Q: How is lupus treated?

Lupus is a chronic condition with no known cure at present. Because of that, the goal of treatment is to put the disease into remission, to treat symptoms as they occur and to prevent long-lasting, serious complications.

Treatment may include a variety of medications, including over-the-counter or prescription NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), corticosteroids and immune suppressants, and antimalarial drugs, which have been shown as effective in treating multiple symptoms, including fatigue, rashes and mouth sores.

Most recently, the FDA approved a biologic medication for the treatment of active lupus in 2011 — the first new medication approved for treating lupus in decades.

Beyond formal treatment options, those with lupus can help manage their condition by staying moderately active and avoiding excessive sun exposure. Sun exposure has been shown to cause lupus flareups.

If you’re experiencing the symptoms of lupus, your first stop should be your primary care doctor. He or she can then refer you to a rheumatologist if necessary. Learn more about University Rheumatology Associates here.