What is lupus?
Lupus is a disease which can affect joints, muscles and other parts of the body. It is often described as an auto-immune disease. This means that for some unknown reason people with lupus seem to develop antibodies (which usually fight bacteria and viruses) that attack healthy tissues instead. This produces inflammation in different parts of the body resulting in pain and swelling. Lupus can also affect the skin, heart, lungs, nervous system, kidneys and blood and in particular the immune system. Lupus is a chronic, systemic disease. This means that it lasts a long time, probably for the rest of your life. However, nearly all people with lupus have periods when the disease is dormant (remissions). But, periods of remissions differ for each individual. While some people experience complete and long-lasting remissions, for others, the disease remain in a chronic (long-lasting) state of activity.
Who gets lupus?
Lupus tends to affect women in their childbearing years. However, lupus can occur in young children or in older people. The number of women affected outnumber men by nine to one. Studies carried out on Asian migrants have shown that Indians and Chinese are twice as likely to suffer from lupus as compared to Caucasians. Lupus also had more severe clinical manifestation in Asian than in Caucasians.
What causes lupus?
We don’t know the cause of lupus. Some people seem to inherit the tendency to get a disease like lupus. Research suggests that an unidentified virus may trigger the tendency and bring on the disease. A few drugs taken for conditions like high blood pressure or tuberculosis can cause symptoms just like lupus but these symptoms always disappear when the drug is stopped. Exposure to sunlight seems to trigger lupus in some people. the prospects of pulling this deal off.
Lupus can present in many different ways. The onset is usually gradual, with the development of vague feelings of disease until some specific lupus symptoms develop. Common symptoms include:
The following symptoms and signs are much more suggestive of lupus:
Lupus is usually easy to diagnose when an individual has many of the more characteristic symptoms and signs, but is made more difficult if only a few are present. Laboratory tests are then usually conducted to help confirm or reject the diagnosis, These tests may include a blood count and urine analysis. More specific laboratory tests look for antibodies, in particular antibodies to the nuclei of cells (the ANA or Anti-Nuclear Antibody test) and antibody to DNA. Over 99 per cent of people with lupus have a positive ANA test. However, only about 30 per cent of people with a positive ANA test have lupus.
Lupus is an unpredictable disease but in most cases it can be successfully treated. Once an effective treatment program has been started, it is important for the patient to keep to it faithfully and to inform the doctor of any change in symptoms so that the medications can be modified.
Pregnancy and Lupus
Pregnancy may mean special problems for the woman with lupus since the disease affects people in their child-bearing years. The majority of women have normal pregnancies, although there is an increased risk of early miscarriage. There may be worsening of symptoms after delivery. It is important for the patient and doctor to discuss and plan the best time for the patient to have a child.
Coping with lupus
In a chronic disease like lupus, social and emotional problems are common. You may experience feelings of anger, fear and depression. It is extremely helpful to be able to talk about how you feel with someone close to you or someone who has had similar problems.