What is Lupus?

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), commonly referred to as lupus, is an autoimmune disease, which causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissue and organ systems. This can result in damage to the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs. Recent surveys by the Lupus Foundation of America have suggested that as many as 1.5 million people in the U.S. have Lupus, and about 90% of those affected are women. A significant majority of the women diagnosed are of African, Asian, or Native American descent. Unfortunately, there is no known cure to lupus yet, but with proper consultation from trained medical professionals in combination with appropriate diagnosis, medicinal intervention, and symptom monitoring there is more hope than ever for lupus patients to live a full, healthy, and complete life.

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Symptoms

Lupus symptoms vary drastically and can fluctuate in duration. Some symptoms come in waves while others may be chronic or present daily. Symptoms may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Headaches

  • Light sensitivity

  • Shortness of breath

  • Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling

  • Fever

  • Fatigue

  • Dry eyes

  • Chest pain

  • Confusion, and potential memory loss

  • Skin lesions that become visible and may worsen with exposure to sunlight

  • Butterfly-shaped rash (malar rash) on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose or rashes elsewhere on the body

  • Fingers and toes that appear to be white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful life circumstances. (Raynaud's Phenomenon).

Diagnosis

Though the symptoms can be extreme, one of the most difficult aspects for lupus patients is receiving a clear diagnosis. 

Since there is not one single test that can determine whether a person has lupus, doctors must utilize a multifaceted diagnosis strategy. The physician takes a number of factors into account and his/her strategy may include: reviewing the medical history of both the patient and their family, completing blood and urine tests, performing a skin or kidney biopsy, and requesting the patient complete their regular full physical examinations.

The complexity of this process often leads patients through numerous cases of misdiagnosis before the correct illness is identified.

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Treatment

There is currently no cure for Lupus (but that doesn’t mean the science community isn’t trying!) and to make things more challenging, a ‘one treatment-for-all’ is not very likely to emerge. This is because lupus is an extremely complicated and diverse disease. Symptoms often manifest differently in each individual, and to varying degrees; some may experience joint pain, others organ failure, or a combination of both. With lupus manifesting uniquely in different individuals, physicians must examine and develop personalized treatment plans. It is always important to talk to your physician about your symptoms to develop the best plan for you, and to be open to new treatment plans over the course of time. 

 

While the search for a cure is underway,  the goals of a treatment plan are currently focused on  managing or suppressing symptoms, preventing the spread of damage, and ideally getting lupus into remission. Although there is no cure, it is important to recognize that many people are not only managing their symptoms but are able to live long, full, and healthy lives.