Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks otherwise healthy tissue and organs. Its symptoms can be tremendously painful, and because there is still a great deal of mystery surrounding the disorder, further research is needed to help experts find a cure. May is Lupus Awareness Month and we’re here to raise awareness with a few lupus facts. By becoming an informed lupus advocate, you can join the global movement to fight this chronic disease.
A Closer Look at Lupus
Lupus impairs the immune system’s ability to differentiate among healthy tissues and foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and germs. As a result, healthy tissue is attacked, which causes widespread pain and damage throughout the body.
Women of childbearing age comprise the largest population of individuals living with lupus, but men, teenagers, and children can also develop the illness. It is often developed between the ages of 15 and 44, and although no studies have been conducted to determine the precise number of affected individuals, research from the Lupus Foundation of America indicates at least 1.5 million Americans have the disease.
What Are the Symptoms of Lupus?
Since the impact of lupus is not concentrated to a specific area or functionality of the body, it can produce a broad range of symptoms, many of which can be mistakenly attributed to other conditions. In fact, the disease is often called the “great imitator,” since it produces symptoms similar to fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and hypothyroidism.
Headaches, pain or swelling in the joints, extreme fatigue, and fever are just a few of the most common symptoms associated with lupus. Individuals may also experience what’s known as the “lupus rash,” which often manifests in a butterfly-like pattern across the face. Sensitivity to sunlight, hair loss, swelling in the extremities, anemia, abnormal blood clotting, and mouth ulcers are additional symptoms to watch for.
How is Lupus Diagnosed?
In addition to its broad set of symptoms, another barrier to diagnosing lupus is the fact that there is not yet a single diagnostic test for detecting the disease. Antinuclear antibody (ANA) tests are the most common methods used to test for lupus, but this is not a disease-specific analysis. Oftentimes, many tests must be performed to help doctors assess whether an individual has lupus, and even then, establishing a definitive diagnosis is challenging. Other symptoms must be assessed to help doctors ascertain whether an individual has lupus versus one of the conditions it is known to imitate.
While researchers still have yet to pinpoint a specific cause for the disease, it is speculated that it results from a combination of factors, including a person’s environment and genetics. In fact, there are more than 50 genes associated with lupus, and while these genes alone are not thought to be responsible for causing lupus, it is likely they are contributing risk factors.
What Are Some Available Treatments?
Despite the lack of a cure, the symptoms of lupus can be managed by avoiding known triggers, working with specialists including rheumatologists, and taking certain medications. Supplemental therapies may also be used to treat the conditions associated with the disease, such as diuretics to alleviate fluid retention and blood pressure medications to treat hypertension. Stem cell therapy is also an available alternative option for those with lupus. Because the condition affects each person differently, many individuals find treating their specific set of symptoms is the most effective way to manage lupus.