Not too long ago, social media in Nigeria was abuzz with lupus and having five years to live. So what really is lupus?
Lupus, also called Systemic Lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a persistent and long-term condition that causes inflammation in various parts of the body.
What does Lupus affect?
It is about six times more common in women than in men. It most typically develops in women aged between 20 and 49. However, anyone at any age can be affected.
What Causes Lupus?
It is an autoimmune condition, meaning the body’s immune system attacks the healthy parts of the body. It also cannot spread from one person to another.
The exact cause of this condition is unknown however possible triggers are:
- Viral Infections
- Medications such as hydralazine, chlorpromazine, methyldopa, etc
What are the symptoms of Lupus?
Lupus is not easy to diagnose and many of its symptoms are common in other health conditions. In some cases, the disease flares up (relapses) and symptoms become worse for a few weeks or more and then settle down (remission). Moreover, it can be mild, moderate, and severe
Mild: These are mainly joint/skin symptoms. It may be a combination of these:
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Mild hair Loss
- Rash- a red rash over the cheeks and nose (called butterfly rash). Other areas exposed to sunlight may also develop a rash
- Mouth ulcer
Moderate: This includes inflammation of other parts of the body asides from the skin and joints
- Lungs-pain at the side of the chest (pleurisy)
- Heart- central chest pain (pericarditis), hypertension
- Joint- joint swelling and pain
- Liver- hepatitis
- Blood- symptoms of low blood level (anemia) e.g. dizziness
- Inflammation of the Kidney- protein, and blood in the urine
- Inflammation of the scalp with hair loss
Finally, in Severe Lupus: There are damages to vital organs such as the brain (epilepsy, migraines), kidney (kidney failure) etc. and can be life-threatening
How is it diagnosed?
It is important to speak with a doctor if any unusual symptom is noticed. Investigation can range from checking markers of inflammation to antibodies associated with this condition. Moreover, other tests including scans and X-rays may be advised to check on the function of the heart, kidneys, and other organs routinely.
Lupus can also cause complications in pregnancy, so always best to check with a lupus specialist (Rheumatologist) and inform your Obstetrician if you are planning to get pregnant or are already pregnant and have this condition
How is Lupus Managed and what can help reduce severity?
It is generally treated using anti-inflammatory painkillers and other specialized medications to suppress immunity. Other important things to take note of include;
- Use high-factor (50+) sunscreen
- Wear a hat and long-sleeved clothing in a sunny area
- Do not sit in direct sunlight or stay in places with fluorescent lights a lot
- Learn to space activities to avoid getting too tired
- Try to stay active
- Practice relaxation techniques to manage stress e. yoga, meditation
- Try to avoid infection and limit contact with people who have infections
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet, including vitamin D and calcium
- Avoid smoking
- Remember, everyone needs someone. So stay in touch with your loved ones, family and friends, and also seek professional help
For many people with lupus, symptoms are mild or moderate. However, for a few people, lupus is severe and can be life-threatening
The outcome for individuals with lupus is much better than it was in the past due to early diagnosis and improvement in treatment. Although there is no cure for lupus, symptoms can improve if treatment starts early. So speak with a doctor early enough