About 1.5 million Americans have lupus, with 16,000 cases diagnosed each
year. Approximately 5 million people worldwide have a form of lupus. There
is very little public awareness about lupus; in fact, the only thing many
people know about the disease is that singer/actress Selena Gomez recently
announced she has the disease.
"It can be difficult to make the diagnosis of lupus, as it is a very
heterogeneous illness and can present differently from one patient to
the next," says
Sanjay Chabra, DO, Director of Rheumatology at
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group in Fullerton. Dr. Chabra explains lupus in more detail:
1. Lupus is an autoimmune disease. "This means that the immune system doesn't function properly--instead
of fighting off bacteria, germs or other harmful things, as with a healthy
person, the immune system will also cause injury to normal tissues in
the body," Dr. Chabra says. "This triggers inflammation and
pain that can happen just about anywhere in the body--skin, joints, and
organs. There's no known cure for lupus at this time."
2. Women should be more wary of lupus than men. Anyone can get lupus, but 90 percent of lupus patients are women, according
to the Lupus Foundation of America. The disease usually presents itself
between the ages of 15 and 44.
3. Lupus is called the "great imitator." "That's because several of its symptoms--fatigue, headaches,
anemia, and pain in the chest, joints or muscles--can also mimic many
other health conditions," Dr. Chabra says. "And when you also
consider that lupus affects people in different ways--one person may experience
severe joint pain, another gets a rash on the cheeks, while more serious
cases can have inflammation of the brain tissue or severe kidney complications--it
can be hard to make a diagnosis." Doctors usually need to take a
complete medical history, order lab tests, and perform a physical exam
to reach a diagnosis of lupus.
4. Hair loss is just one of the side effects. It's not unusual for lupus patients to have thinning hair, either
from the disease itself or as a result of treatment. Like other chronic
illnesses, anxiety and depression can be another side effect of lupus.
There's also an increased risk for other health problems, such as
kidney disease, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Many people with lupus experience a loss of energy, i.e., fatigue.
5. Lupus symptoms come and go. "People with lupus may go a long time without experiencing any problems,
but then symptoms can suddenly appear in what are called flares,"
Dr. Chabra says. "The severity of symptoms can vary, and they can
be different from what a patient has previously experienced."
5. Sun is not a lupus patient's friend. "UV rays from the sun, or even from tanning beds or bright fluorescent
lights, can trigger flares, so when you're outdoors during the day,
it is important to stay in the shade as much as possible or wear protective
clothing and sunscreen to block rays," Dr. Chabra says. Other triggers
can be emotional or physical stress, fatigue or a cold or flu.
6. Treating lupus is a team effort. Generally, a rheumatologist works with a patient's primary doctor on
guiding lupus care. Other medical specialists may also be called in, depending
on the symptoms. For instance, if a patient has heart problems resulting
from lupus, a cardiologist would join the health care team. A nephrologist
would also help if there are kidney complications. Due to the myriad of
factors involved, treatment is individualized to each patient and often
involves chronic medication to prevent flares or damage to the body.
Learn more about
Dr. Chabra. Learn more about
St. Jude Heritage Medical Group.