Lupus is a disease that can affect many parts of the body. Everyone reacts differently. One person with lupus may have swollen knees and fever. Another person may be tired all the time or have kidney problems. Someone else may have rashes. Lupus can involve the joints, the skin, the kidneys, the lungs, the heart and/or the brain. If you have lupus, it may affect two or three parts of your body. Usually, one person doesn’t have all the possible symptoms.
Who gets Lupus?
Nine out of ten individuals diagnosed with lupus are women, usually between the ages of 18 and 45. But lupus may affect men, children, as well as people of ages. For reasons not yet totally understood, communities of color – African Americans, Latinos, Asians (including many Filipinos) and Native Americans are disproportionately affected by this disease. Studies conducted thus far point to both genetics and environmental factors as the possible cause for lupus.
Lupus sometimes seems to run in families, which suggests the disease may be hereditary. Having the genes isn’t the whole story, though. The environment, sunlight, stress, and certain medicines may trigger symptoms in some people. Other people who have similar genetic backgrounds may not get signs or symptoms of the disease. Researchers are trying to find out why.
There are more Americans diagnosed with lupus than AIDS, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis, sickle-cell anemia and cerebral palsy COMBINED!
There are four main types of lupus:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (eh-RITH-eh-muh-TOE-sus) is the most common form. It’s sometimes called SLE, or just lupus. The word “systemic” means that the disease can involve many parts of the body such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, and brain. SLE symptoms can be mild or serious.
- Discoid lupus erythematosus mainly affects the skin. A red rash may appear, or the skin on the face, scalp, or elsewhere may change color.
- Drug-induced lupus is triggered by a few medicines. It’s like SLE, but symptoms are usually milder. Most of the time, the disease goes away when the medicine is stopped.
- Neonatal lupus erythematosus (NLE) is a rare disorder caused by the transplacental passage of maternal auto antibodies. Only 1% of infants with positive maternal auto antibodies develop neonatal lupus erythematosus. The most common clinical manifestations are cardiac, dermatologic, and hepatic. Some infants may also have hematologic abnormalities.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lupus?
Lupus may be hard to diagnose. It’s often mistaken for other diseases. For this reason, lupus has been called the “great imitator.” The signs of lupus differ from person to person. Some people have just a few signs; others have more. Common signs of lupus are:
- Red rash or color change on the face, often in the shape of a butterfly across the nose and cheeks
- Painful or swollen joints
- Unexplained fever
- Chest pain with deep breathing
- Swollen glands
- Extreme fatigue (feeling tired all the time)
- Unusual hair loss (mainly on the scalp)
- Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress
- Sensitivity to the sun
- Low blood count
- Depression, trouble thinking, and/or memory problems.
- Other signs are mouth sores, unexplained seizures (convulsions), “seeing things” (hallucinations), repeated miscarriages, and unexplained kidney problems.
Is there a cure for Lupus?
There is no cure, but in most cases lupus can be managed. Recent developments in research have produced drugs and therapies that may prevent lupus “flares,” or prevent/slow down damage to affected organs. There are available drugs that can treat joint pain, inflammation or other more serious symptoms and conditions associated with lupus.
Many lupus patients are photosensitive. As such, exposure to the sun could trigger lupus flares. Filipinos vacationing in the homeland like to spend time in the beaches and resorts. Make sure to have ample sun protection like sunglasses, hats, umbrellas, protective clothing and sunscreen.
- Medical history – Telling a doctor about your symptoms and other problems you have had can help him or her understand your situation. Your history can provide clues to your disease.
- Complete physical exam – The doctor will look for rashes and other signs that something is wrong.
- Laboratory testing of blood and urine samples – Blood and urine samples often show if your immune system is overactive.
- Skin or kidney biopsy – In a biopsy, tissue that is removed by a minor surgical procedure is examined under a microscope. Skin or kidney tissue examined in this way can show signs of an autoimmune disease.
“Pagod lang ‘yan”
It is important not to dismiss any symptoms that you may have. For us Filipinos, it is quite common to say, “pagod lang ‘yan,” when faced with joint pains and fatigue. But joint pains and fatigue are among the common signs of lupus, especially if they are persistent and unexplained.
Do not hesitate to discuss with your doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above. If lupus is suspected, laboratory tests may be ordered by your general practitioner, and will often refer you to a rheumatologist who is best trained to diagnose and treat lupus and related disorders.
In addition to your medical provider, there are organizations that can assist you with information, resources and referral related to lupus. In Northern California, you can contact: Lupus Foundation of Northern California by calling (408) 954-8600 or visiting their web site at www.lfnc.org. Assistance is available in English, Tagalog, Ilocano, Spanish and Bengali.
Similar organizations have also been established in other states and cities. Check your local listings.
Spandan Chakrabarti is Communications Manager of Lupus Foundation of Northern California.