Lupus: Is it a Threat to Women?
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a serious disease often diagnosed in young women, between the ages of 15 and 44. But it is undeniable that it can affect anyone. A chronic autoimmune disease that can destroy any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs) is lupus. Any “Chronic” disease refers to the stages pertaining to symptoms that tend to last longer than six weeks or for many years. In lupus, there is a breakdown in the immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs (“foreign invaders,”). Our immune system is programmed to produce proteins called “antibodies” which protect the body from these invaders. When lupus controls the body, your immune system cannot recognize the distinction between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues.
So an autoimmunity forms creating auto-antibodies that damage and destroy healthy tissue (autoantibody means against self). As a result, these auto-antibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
Lupus Symptoms Treatment Causes
Around 16,000 numbers of new cases of lupus are reported annually across the country of US. The most common form of lupus is termed as Systemic lupus erythematosus which the most people mean when they say “lupus”. There are four different types of lupus that arises in confusing form. Let us learn more about each type below:
- Lupus nephritis is the inflammation of the kidneys affecting the body’s ability to filter waste from the blood. It can be so threatening that dialysis or kidney transplant may be needed.
- Inflammation of the nervous system and brain causes memory problems, confusion, headaches, and strokes.
- Inflammation in the brain’s blood vessels can cause high fevers, seizures, and behavioural changes.
- When there is the build-up of deposits on coronary artery walls hardening the arteries or coronary artery disease leads to a heart attack.
Fatigue– Lupus is identified with fatigue as one of their primary symptoms in 50-90% cases. The severe fatigue of lupus seems is caused by many factors including disease activity, anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances, vitamin D deficiency, and low levels of exercise. It’s clear from studies that fatigue can significantly impact patients’ quality of life, including lessening the ability to function at home and at work.
Malar Rash– 50% of people with lupus characterise with red “malar” rash or colour change that appear across the cheeks and bridge of the nose in the shape of a butterfly. They normally last from days to weeks with pain and itchiness. The area of face and ears, upper arms, shoulders, chest, & hands are vulnerable to rash while exposed to the sun. Sometimes, skin rashes often first develop or worsen after being out in the sun as lupus is sensitive to sunlight (called photosensitivity). The Appearance of the butterfly rash is also a sign of an oncoming disease flare.
Joint Pain and Swelling– 90% of people with lupus have arthritis which is defined as inflammation or swelling of the joint lining. The most common symptoms of arthritis are stiffness and aching occurring in the hands and wrists. Symptoms of arthritis fluctuate from one joint to another. In the morning pain and stiffness tend to be worse. Patients also experience pain in the joints without swelling or tenderness, which is referred to as arthralgia.
Fever– Most patients of SLE go through unexplained fevers of temperature over 100°F (37.8°C). Physicians often recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
Diagnosis and Treatment
The cause of Lupus is unknown in which your immune system attacks healthy cells by mistake that can potentially damage many parts of the body. The disease symptoms mimic many other illnesses which are why it is known as “the great imitator”. Detecting the symptoms of lupus can be challenging as it may be unclear, or change over the course of the disease. Though effective treatments are available yet there is no known cure for lupus.
A doctor who is considering the possibility of lupus will look for signs of inflammation which include, pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function at a particular place in the body. He will review the following while evaluating a lupus diagnosis:
- Current symptoms.
- Laboratory test results.
- Your Medical history along with the history of your close family members (grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins).
Laboratory tests alone are not enough to say definite “yes” or “no” diagnosis because:
- Test results diagnosing lupus can coincide because of some other illness or can even be seen in healthy people.
- A test result may fluctuate time to time (be positive one time and negative another time.)
- Different laboratories may produce different test results.
There is no specific test or a single diagnostic test for systemic lupus. The test commonly widespread is called the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. In fact, several laboratory tests are done to detect physical changes or conditions in your body that can occur with lupus. However, each test result adds more information to the picture your doctor is forming of your illness. Your physician may reach a lupus diagnosis if multiple diagnostic criteria are present simultaneously. If the symptoms are present gradually over time, the diagnosis will not be as obvious; however, further consultation with a rheumatologist may be needed.
Some key facts about lupus:
- Lupus is non-contagious, not even through sexual contact.
- Lupus is not malignant or related to cancer. As it is an autoimmune disease, some treatments for lupus may include immunosuppressant drugs that are also used in chemotherapy.
- Lupus is not similar or related to HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Both of these make the immune system underactive whereas, in lupus, the immune system is overactive.
- Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening and doesn’t recover on its own without any treatment. With proper medical attention, lupus patients can lead disease-free life.
- It is believed that 5 million people throughout the world have a form of lupus with at least 1.5 million Americans.
- Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age. However, men, children, and young people develop lupus, too.
- Women of colour are 2-3 times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians. People belonging to all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus.