10 Facts About Lupus

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May is being observed as Lupus Awareness Month, and May 10 is World Lupus Day. According to the WLD website, observance of the day began with a Proclamation 11 years ago by an international steering committee representing lupus organisations from 13 different nations when they met in the UK to organise the first World Lupus Day. The Proclamation is a call to action for governments around the world to increase their financial support for lupus research, awareness and patient services.

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body. It causes the immune system, which is designed to protect against infection, to create antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues and organs — the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, blood, skin, and joints. Here are some more facts:

  1. The disease, for which there is no known cure, affects more than five million people worldwide.
  2. More than 90 per cent of people living with lupus are women, mostly in the 15-44 age range. Women of African, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American descent are two to three times more at risk for lupus than Caucasians.
  3. Lupus is a leading cause of premature cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and stroke among young women.
  4. Although “lupus” is used as a broad term, there are several different types of lupus:
    • systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is the form of the disease that most people refer to when they say “lupus.”  It can affect many parts of the body — including the kidneys, brain or central nervous system, blood and blood vessels, skin, lungs, heart and joints.
    • discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), also called cutaneous lupus, affects only the skin
    • drug-induced lupus, triggered by a few medications
  5. There are many challenges to reaching a lupus diagnosis. It is known as “the great imitator” because its symptoms mimic many other illnesses. Symptoms can also be unclear, come and go, or change. There is no single test that can definitively determine whether a person has lupus, but several laboratory tests of blood and urine along with clinical assessment can help make a diagnosis. Signs and symptoms that suggest systemic lupus include:
    • Painful or swollen joints
    • Fingertips and/or toes become pale or purple from the cold or stress
    • Sores in the mouth or nose
    • Low blood count
    • Red rash or color change on the face, across the cheek or bridge of nose
    • Unexplained fever for several days
    • Chest pain associated with breathing
    • Protein in the urine
    • Extreme fatigue — feeling tired all the time
    • Sensitivity to the sun
    • Depression, trouble thinking, and/or memory problems
    • Unusual hair loss, mainly on the scalp
  6. While genes may increase the chance that someone will develop lupus, it takes some kind of environmental trigger to set off the illness or to bring on a flare. Examples include UV rays from the sun or fluorescent lights, a cold or exhaustion. Click here for more examples.
  7. Treatment may require special kinds of doctors to deal with the many different symptoms. Your health care team may include a rheumatologist (swelling in the joints), clinical immunologist (immune system disorders), nephrologist (kidney disease), haematologist (blood disorders), dermatologist (skin diseases), cardiologist (heart and blood vessel problems) and a counsellor.
  8. Lupus is not contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot “catch” lupus from someone or “give” it to someone.
  9. The disease can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life.
  10. There is a local support group, the Lupus Foundation of Jamaica, which is a voluntary patient organisation that has been in operation since 1984.

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