Guest Author - Monica J. Foster
Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body it affects. There can be damage to the skin, making sun exposure very dangerous as well. The joints become swollen and inflamed. A myriad of organs can be attacked by the inflammatory disease, causing them to become sensitive to shut down.
What does chronic mean in terms of lupus? Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks. Often symptoms can last for many years or the rest of someone’s life depending on the severity of the condition. Where lupus is concerned your immune system doesn’t work properly, and the immune system is what fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs, so you will be more prone to illness. Normally our immune system produces antibodies to ward off illness, but when the immune system is this fragile with lupus, simple colds and flu could be intensified. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between the particles from illness and your body’s healthy tissues. Therefore, your own body begins to turn on itself like a rogue soldier among friendly troops. These ‘autoantibodies’, as they are called, cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
Lupus is also a disease that commonly comes in flares. A flare means the symptoms worsen and you feel ill. Then, there are remissions where the symptoms improve and you feel better. Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening. You should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full and active life.
Lupus is definitely not contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot "catch" lupus from someone or "give" lupus to someone else. What you do have to worry about is being around people who are sick because your immune system is so fragile and simple colds could knock you down much harder.
Lupus is not like or related to cancer. Cancer is a condition of malignant, abnormal tissues that grow rapidly and spread into surrounding tissues. Lupus is only an autoimmune disease, as already discussed above. There are people, though, who not only have lupus, but also have cancer, so there have been studies linking the weakened immunities as a result of lupus to sensitivity to carcinogens.
Lupus is not like or related to HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). In HIV or AIDS the immune system is underactive, or slowed down. In lupus, the immune system is vastly overactive and over-reactive. It is estimated that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus. The actual number may be higher, but there have been no large-scale studies to show the actual number of people in the U.S. living with lupus. Across the world, approximately 5 million people have some form of lupus. Annually, more than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported.
A larger percent of those living with lupus are women of childbearing age, between the ages of 15 and 44. Still, men, children, and teenagers can also develop lupus. Studies have found that women of color are 2-3 times more likely to develop lupus, but people of any race or ethnic group can develop lupus.
So, what does lupus look like? How does it make itself known in the body? Because lupus can affect so many different organs, a wide range of symptoms can develop These symptoms may ebb and flow or stay for long periods. And, different symptoms may appear at different times during the course of the disease.
The most common symptoms of lupus are extreme tiredness and fatigue, headaches, painful and swollen joints, fever, anemia, swelling in the body’s extremities, chest pain during deep breaths, a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheek and nose, sun or light sensitivity, hair loss, abnormal blood clotting, whiteness or blue tinge to the fingers during cold and mouth or nose sores.
It sounds like many of these symptoms can occur in other conditions and illnesses doesn’t it? Illnesses like arthritis, Lyme disease, diabetes, anemia, chronic fatigue syndrome, pneumonia, alopecia (chronic hair loss), hemophilia and more. In fact, lupus is sometimes called "the great imitator" because its symptoms are often like the symptoms of other chronic illness conditions and diseases.
For most people with lupus, proper treatment can minimize symptoms, reduce inflammation and pain, and stop the development of serious organ damage. The information found here will help you understand the most commonly prescribed medicines today, and other drugs under investigation for treating lupus.
Doctors continue to search for better ways to care for and treat people with lupus. Understanding what causes the disease and why certain people are more likely to develop it may one day lead to promising new treatments for, or even prevent, lupus. In the meantime, researchers continue to look for new treatments and ways to modify existing ones so they can diminish or eliminate side effects and improve the quality of life for people who have lupus.
Medications are important for managing many systemic lupus patients. An array of drug therapies are out there and this has increased the potential for effective treatment and excellent patient outcomes. People with serious illnesses who are not responding to the available treatments sometimes enroll in clinical trials to gain access to medical treatments that could be helpful.
Open communication with your doctor, paying attention to your body and increasing your own knowledge is the best approach to managing lupus.
Ever considered alternative therapies? Many people living with lupus have found that things like water therapy, meditation, gentle yoga, Tai Chi, acupuncture, holistic herbal medicine and changes to a healthier diet can help ward off the more painful symptoms or even bump lupus into remission for periods of time.
Support groups are also a good way to help mentally and emotionally to ride the waves of lupus. Just knowing someone else has the life experience you do can mean the world to your emotional and mental well-being, because lupus can at times be a lonely disease since it can be so debilitating at its worst.
Check with your doctor and other lupus survivors to see what can work best for you.