Lupus: the most important facts about the autoimmune disease
Not only thanks to singer Selena Gomez, who has been very open about her lupus diagnosis for years and even had to undergo a kidney transplant, this mysterious disease is getting more and more attention in the media. Selena Gomez just recalled last February that body-shaming comments about her weight or the tremors in her hands are totally inappropriate as they are related to the medication for the condition. By the way: Stars like Lady Gaga or singer Seal also suffer from lupus.
What is lupus?
Lupus is called lupus erythematosus (LE) and is a rare autoimmune disease. Your own immune system is directed against your own body and attacks various organs. The term derives from the Latin name for the wolf, “lupus”. In the past, the scars that remain after the skin damage has healed were compared to scars from wolf bites (on singer Seal’s face, for example). “Erythematosus” means “flushing” and derives from the redness of the skin of butterfly erythema, which is common in this disease. Lupus falls into the category of chronic diseases as it usually lasts for years. Almost 90 percent of those affected are women, the disease progresses in irregular phases and is very individual. Even if one usually only speaks of “lupus”, the disease comes in several forms. The two best known are differentiated according to how affected they are: Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE) only affects the skin. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is the most serious form, and the organs are also affected.
What are the causes and symptoms of lupus?
An exact cause of lupus is still not scientifically proven. In any case, the X chromosome plays a role, so it is mainly women who are affected. Hormones also seem to be responsible triggers, which is why young women are so often affected by the disease. But just exposure to the sun or the weather can also trigger lupus. Unfortunately, the autoimmune disease is extremely difficult to diagnose. Common symptoms are: rheumatic complaints, exhaustion, weakness, concentration problems, sensitivity to sunlight, fever, inexplicable weight loss, swelling of the lymph glands, hair loss, specific antibodies in the blood, unclear persistent reduction in red or white blood cells or blood platelets, pericarditis, pleurisy, kidney inflammation, depression , persistent headache. Butterfly-shaped redness on the cheeks and the bridge of the nose are often visible symptoms. Because lupus has so many possible symptoms that can mimic or overlap with so many other diseases, it can take a long time to get an accurate diagnosis. By then, many patients have already come a long way from specialist to specialist.
Is lupus contagious?
No! Lupus is not contagious, nor is the disease sexually transmitted. Lupus is not a hereditary disease, but can run in families.
What other effects does lupus have?
A chronic illness like lupus can have a major impact on mental health – many people with chronic illnesses suffer from depression, for example. Often lupus patients already feel stigmatized by their experiences with the disease, lupus can be trivialized or misunderstood by family, friends and doctors, adding to the feeling of isolation. A disease like lupus can also severely affect interpersonal relationships: it is most common between the ages of 20 and 30, when many relationships are formed. And the rashes, which can be disfiguring at times, can also be very distressing.
Can lupus be cured?
No, as of today there is no cure for lupus. The treatment options are also limited, often the overactive immune system is calmed down with immunosuppressive drugs, which, however, have many side effects. Cortisone, anti-rheumatic drugs or even antimalarials are also used. The development of novel lupus-specific drugs is therefore an important goal that is currently being pursued. But there is also good news: Most lupus patients today have a normal life expectancy, pregnancy can also be possible – of course only with a doctor’s agreement – and the lupus flare-ups seem to decrease with age.