May is Lupus Awareness Month – PUT ON PURPLE DAY on MAY 18TH!
What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, meaning a person’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells by mistake. It can affect different organs of the body, including, but not limited to the skin, joints, heart, kidneys, and lungs. It usually occurs without warning and affects each person differently. While it is known that the disease involves the immune system, the exact cause is unknown.
What are the signs and symptoms of lupus?
Its symptoms can mimic those of other diseases. The intensity of symptoms varies and can come and go over time.
Who develops lupus?
- Anyone from newborn babies to older individuals.
- 15% of those diagnosed are children.
- Most patients develop it between the ages of 15-44.
- Women make up the majority of patients with the disease.
- All races and ethnicities.
- But 2-3 more frequent among African Americans, Asians, Hispanics/Latinos, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans than among Caucasians.
How is lupus diagnosed?
There is no single test that can diagnose lupus. Medical history, symptoms, and various tests can help make the diagnosis. Helpful tests look for autoantibodies (antibodies that attack a person’s healthy cells) that are often found in the blood of lupus patients. As the kidneys are often affected by lupus, a kidney biopsy is also useful. Various signs and symptoms of the disease must also be present for diagnosis.
How does lupus affect the kidneys?
When the immune system attacks the kidneys, it leads to inflammation of the kidneys. This stops the kidneys from working properly to remove waste and toxins from the body. Patients may not have any symptoms but may notice darker urine or swelling in different parts of the body. An abnormal urine or blood test may be the only sign of disease. Because the kidneys are so important to overall health, lupus patients with kidney involvement generally need strong drug treatment to help prevent permanent damage. If permanent damage does occur, dialysis and kidney transplant will be needed.
How is lupus treated?
Doctors have various options to treat lupus, but there is currently no cure. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids, antimalarials, and immunosuppressants are commonly used. As lupus affects patients differently, treatment varies between patients. One patient may also have to change medications several times during their lifetime as the disease evolves and changes. For patients with kidney involvement, blood pressure medications and stronger immunosuppressants may be needed.
For more information on lupus, visit lupus.org, lupusawarenessmonth.org, lupusresearch.org.
Note: This information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.