Although it doesn’t receive much attention in the media, lupus is a serious disease and there are some facts about lupus that everyone should know. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body. When a person has lupus, their immune system can’t tell the difference between foreign invaders and the body’s own cells. As a result, the immune system destroys healthy tissue. Like any autoimmune disease, lupus can be difficult to deal with. Yet, knowing the facts about lupus can help people understand this mystery disease much better.
1. Many Symptoms
One of the important facts about lupus to know is that people with the disease experience many symptoms. Because lupus can attack any part of the body, the symptoms are widespread. It is common for people to have headaches, joint pain, and muscle pain. In fact, lupus can be a very painful disease to have. However, lupus patients experience other symptoms as well. They can have extreme fatigue, hair loss, mouth sores, pain in the chest upon deep breathing, and anemia. One of the hallmark symptoms of systemic lupus is a butterfly shaped rash across the bridge of the nose. This rash is a clear indicator of lupus, although not everyone with lupus develops this rash.
2. Takes a Long Time to Diagnose
On average, it takes about five years to diagnose lupus! You may wonder why it takes so long for patients to receive this diagnosis. It is because lupus is known as the “great imitator.” If you think back to that long list of symptoms, there are many diseases that have similar symptoms. Prior to receiving a diagnosis of lupus, lupus patients are often told they have fibromyalgia, arthritis, Lyme disease, or thyroid disease. In some cases patients do have these problems as well. However, lupus is the primary cause of their suffering. One of the reasons it is important to be educated about lupus is so people are aware of the symptoms and can hopefully receive a diagnosis sooner, if that is their problem.
3. Many Body Systems Are Affected
One of the unique aspects about lupus is it can attack any body system. However, there are several key parts of the body that are most often affected by lupus. Patients with lupus can experience inflammation of the heart and lungs. This complication of the disease is very serious and can lead to death in extreme cases. Aside from the heart and lungs, the kidneys can be attacked as well. Lupus nephritis is a specific type of lupus is which the kidneys become inflamed and unable to properly remove waste from the blood and control the amount of fluid in the body. The skin is another organ that can be attacked in patients who have lupus. In fact, there are several different types of skin lupus, and they all have specific rashes or lesions associated with them. Other body systems that lupus can affect include the nervous system, the reproductive system, the musculoskeletal system, and the gastrointestinal system.
4. The Medications Are Powerful
To treat lupus, doctors use very strong medications that often have serious side effects. Immunosuppressant drugs are commonly prescribed for patients with lupus. Just like the name suggests, these drugs suppress the immune system, which stops the immune system’s ability to attack the body. However, it also puts people at a higher risk for catching illnesses and developing cancer. Methotrexate is another drug that is prescribed. This is medication that is also used to treat cancer, and as such it has some very serious side effects, including anemia and decreased resistance to infection. Because it is so strong and has so many adverse side effects, doctors generally try to control lupus with other drugs first. Antimalarial drugs are often prescribed for lupus patients, and they have some of the less serious side effects. The only serious side effect is vision loss; however, this is rare, and patients are watched closely for this so they can be switched to a different medication. Steroids are also prescribed to control inflammation, and these come with the side effects of weight gain and bone loss in long term use. While these medications are extremely powerful, they can help lupus patients feel better and live more normal lives.
5. Diet is a Factor
One of the things that is often left out in conversations about lupus is that foods can trigger lupus flares, which is a worsening of symptoms. Lupus patients should avoid alfalfa sprouts because they contain concentrated amounts of the amino acid l-canavanine, which has been found to trigger a lupus flare. Some doctors also recommend patients avoid mushrooms and garlic, which have triggered lupus flares in some patients. Diet is also important for patients with lupus nephritis, who often need to be on a low oxalate and low protein diet to prevent additional stress on the kidneys. It can also be helpful for patients to consume plenty of the vitamins C and E, because this has been shown to decrease autoimmune activity.
6. Sunlight Can Be a Problem
Patients with lupus often need to avoid the sunlight. It is very common for people to experience a flare when they have sun exposure. This is due to lupus patients being highly photosensitive, which results in skin rashes, increased joint pain, and increased weakness. Wearing hats and sunscreen is incredibly important for lupus patients because it helps them control their symptoms.
7. Women Affected the Most
Lupus is a rare disease; however, of the people who have lupus, 90 percent are female. Currently there are no hard facts that explain why so many more women get lupus. However, doctors believe it is related to hormone differences. It is unfortunate that there is not a clearer explanation, but as doctors continue to research lupus, they will hopefully find an answer as to why females are so much more likely to get lupus.
There are so many important facts to know about lupus. These facts cover some of the key details about the disease that people should be aware of. Lupus can be very difficult to cope with, but it is possible for lupus patients to live full lives. What do you know about lupus?