Lupus is an acute chronic autoimmune disease which attacks any organ of the body in unpredictable ways. Diagnosis is difficult because symptoms vary between individuals, and the disease remits and relapses. Delay in diagnosis can lead to organ failure and sometimes death.
Lupus belongs in the family of diseases that includes rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, and scleroderma.
The most common type of lupus is SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus). It is a complex and baffling condition that can target any tissue or organ of the body, including skin, muscles, joints, blood and blood vessels, lungs, heart, kidneys, and the brain.
There are other types of lupus, which mainly affect the skin; A few individuals develop drug-induced lupus as a response to some medications used to treat other conditions. These symptoms disappear when the person stops taking the medication.
Anyone can: Children, women, and men. Between the ages of 15 and 45, eight times more women than men get lupus. In those under 15 or over 45, both sexes are affected equally.
No one knows for sure. What we do know is that, in lupus, the immune system (the body's defense against viruses and bacteria) is unable to tell the difference between intruders and the body's own tissues. Trying to do its job, it attacks parts of the body, causing inflammation and creating the symptoms of lupus.
There is some evidence that there is a link between lupus and some hormones, but how this works remains uncertain. It also appears that inherited factors may make certain people more likely to develop lupus, but these also are not clear yet. The risk of a sibling of someone with lupus getting lupus is about 29 times higher than in the “normal” population.
Until science fully understands how the immune system works, the specific cause of lupus remains unknown.
Some people will have only a few of the many possible symptoms. Because it can target any of the body's tissues, lupus is often heard to pin down or diagnose. That's why it is called "the disease with 1000 faces".
Before symptoms specific to lupus occur, flu-like symptoms may appear, along with severe fatigue, a sudden unexplained loss or gain in weight, headaches, hair loss, hives, high blood pressure, or changes in the colour of fingers in the cold.
A person with lupus may experience:
This is far from a compete list of symptoms, and the diagnosis of lupus must be made by a doctor.
While there is no cure yet, with treatment, most people with lupus can look forward to a normal life expectancy. The treatment plan will depend on part on the type and severity of symptoms. Because sometimes the disease is more aggressive in children, pediatric rheumatologists are more aggressive in the treatment of the disease.
Medications prescribed may have side effects, and, in combination, some drugs can interact to produce unexpected reactions. Both doctor and patient need to be aware of these possibilities and watch for them.