First things, first. What is lupus? Lupus is quite simply a chronic inflammatory disease. That is, it is characterized by persistent inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation occurs because the immune system is responding to some signal it is being exposed to. In the case of lupus, this chronic inflammation is happening because lupus is an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune response happens when your body's immune system attacks your body – harming body tissues and organs in the process. The inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
In the U.S., there are about 1.5 million people living with lupus and each year, and more than 16,000 new cases are diagnosed. Globally, there are at least five million people with lupus. Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because the signs and symptoms can be very similar to other diseases. So many people live with the disease without knowing what is causing their symptoms for many years. One of the more distinctive sign of lupus is a facial rash. This facial rash typically looks like open butterfly wings and spans across both cheeks. Even though this rash can show up in many cases of lupus, it does not always happen.
Some people are born with a tendency toward developing lupus,which obviously puts them at higher risk. The disease still needs to be triggered, which may happen through infections, sun exposure, or even certain drugs. Currently, there is no cure but there are still treatments that can help control the symptoms. In lieu of this, it is important to know your risk factor and educate yourself on what the signs and symptoms are if you are in one of the groups at higher risk for the disease.
Factors that may increase your risk of lupus:
• Sex: Lupus is more common in women.
• Age: Although lupus affects people of all ages, it is most commonly diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 45.
• Race: Lupus is more common in African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians.
Signs and symptoms of Lupus:
The signs and symptoms of lupus are not necessarily specific to the disease, but specific to each case and person. It is not unusual for people have very light symptoms for a period of time that are easy to deal with, followed by more extreme symptoms that impede daily life. As with many chronic diseases, there symptoms and their severity fall onto a spectrum ranging from slight to severe. Some of the typical signs and symptoms are as follows:
• A rash in the shape of a butterfly that spreads across the cheeks and nose
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Confusion, memory loss, headaches
• Pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints
• Skin lesions (which are caused by and/or made worse when exposed to sunlight)
• Fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods
• Dry eyes