7 things you should know about lupus

One of the most difficult, complex and least recognized diseases is lupus.  This disease affects more than 1.5 million Americans even though the actual number could be higher and it is estimated to affect about 5 million people worldwide. 

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease having the ability to do damage to any part of the body including the skin, joints, or organs.  Autoimmune diseases are where the immune system is unable to tell the difference between a foreign substance and healthy tissue within the body.  Antibodies, which the immune system naturally produces to help fight off antigens, will instead attack and destroy healthy tissue perceiving it as a foreign invader. 

Because of the perculiar nature of lupus, it is one of the most difficult autoimmune diseases to identify as it often takes years to get an accurate diagnosis.  There is no single laboratory test that definitively identifies the illness.  Known as “the great imitator,” lupus likes to mimic symptoms of other diseases and has a tendency to flare-up and then go into remission.

Here are 7 things you should know about this autoimmune disease that could possibly save you time in getting an accurate diagnosis:

1.     There are five types of lupus

·      Systemic lupus erythematosus – where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissue often affectingjoints and organs

·      Discoid lupus – This is a chronic skin condition of sores with inflammation and scarring of the face, ears, and scalp and possible other body areas.

·      Sub-acute cutaneous lupus erythematosus – this is most often present in white women aged 15 to 50, consisting of skin lesions that are scaly and evolve into lesions or plaques.

·      Drug-induced lupusThis can occur after taking certain medications but the symptoms usually go away when the medicine is stopped

·      Neonatal lupus – Even though rare, a baby born to a mom with lupus may have neonatal lupus.  The condition can result in skin rashes, anemia or liver problems.  Symptoms usually go away after a few months and don’t cause permanent damage. 

2.     Criteria for diagnosing lupus

To distinguish it from other connective tissue diseases, the diagnosis of lupus is based on eleven criteria by the American College of Rheumatology.  If a person has four or more of the eleven criteria, they should consult with a rheumatologist:

·      Butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose

·      Scaly disk-shaped rash on face, neck, ears, scalp, and chest

·      Sunlight sensitivity

·      Mouth sores, tongue sores, and inside nose sores

·      Arthritis pain in joints

·      Pain in chest and side when breathing or moving

·      Kidney problems

·      Neurological problems

·      Anemia or low white blood cell count

·      Immune system malfunction

·      Antinuclear antibodies

3.     Predominately affects women

Lupus favors women 10 times more than men with it usually developing between the ages of 18 to 45.

4.     More prevalent in certain ethnic backgrounds

Lupus is two to three times more prevalent among people of color, including African-American, Hispanics, Asians, and Native Americans.

5.     Lupus is not contagious

Lupus is not a disease you can “catch” from someone else, not even through sexual contact.  Neither can be “given” to someone else who doesn’t have it.

6.     The majority of people with lupus lead normal lives

Even though the disease has many challenges at times, with careful monitoring and treatment, most people with lupus can lead a normal life.  It is when a person with the disease becomes depressed or loses hope that it can lead to frustration and with worsening flareups.

7.     The best doctor for treating lupus is a rheumatologist

Most people will start with their primary physician for consulting on a diagnosis but is it is a rheumatologist who should be the one to develop a treatment plan.  Rheumatologists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal disease and systemic autoimmune conditions commonly referred to as rheumatic diseases.