Lupus is a disorder of the immune system which can affect various areas of the body. Typically, the immune system creates proteins known as antibodies to protect the body against any foreign material, such as viruses or bacteria. With an illness such as lupus, the immune system is unable to differentiate between a foreign substance and its own tissues and cells. When this occurs, the immune system creates antibodies to fight against itself, resulting in inflammation, pain and damage to the body.
Lupus can affect many parts of the body, including everything from the skin and joints to the heart, lungs, kidneys and the brain. However, the early symptoms of lupus typically only affect the skin and joints. Early symptoms include joint pain, a rash and fatigue. Seventy percent of lupus patients report joint pain as the first sign of the disease. Joints in the elbows, ankles and wrists may appear swollen, red and warm. A butterfly rash is also a common early symptom of the disease. The rash will cover the cheeks and the bridge of the nose. It may also result in sores and flaky skin. Patients also struggle with fatigue, whether mild or severe, which can oftentimes affect their daily activities.
In the past, lupus was a difficult illness to diagnose because it had similar symptoms of many other common diseases. Today, an early diagnosis is more common because patients at risk for the disease can be more easily identified due to symptoms and family history. A doctor will typically begin by taking down your complete medical history, which includes a description of the symptoms. She will also check for physical signs of the disease, such as the butterfly rash and joint inflammation. In order to diagnose a patient with lupus, blood tests, a urinalysis and biopsies are commonly required.
There are various types of lupus. Normally, when people refer to "lupus" they are referring to systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE. "Systemic" means it affects various parts of the body. It typically affects people between the ages of 15 and 45, and consists of the symptoms stated previously. Discoid lupus erythematosus is a type of lupus which only affects the skin. It is a chronic skin disorder in which a raised, red rash appears mostly on the scalp or face. People with this type of lupus sometimes develop SLE as well. There is also a type of lupus which can be caused by certain types of drugs. This is known as drug-induced lupus. The symptoms go away once the drug is no longer taken, and symptoms are very similar to SLE but do not affect the brain or kidneys. Neonatal lupus is a rare form which affects newborn babies. The mother may or may not have lupus. Early identification is vital for the health of the baby.
The majority of patients (90 percent in fact) affected with lupus are women. The early symptoms and identification of the disease typically take place between the ages of 15 and 45. It is a disease which is more common in African-American women, Asian women, Native American women and Latino women. It is typically not very common in Caucasian women.
Lupus patients have the illness for a lifetime, but the idea that it is typically a fatal disease is a misconception. There is no cure for lupus, but due to medical advancements and a better understanding of the disease, a patient's prognosis looks bright. Lupus can be fatal, but patients in which the disease does not affect major organs can expect a normal life span. Many patients will only have to contend with early lupus symptoms, but they do occasionally progress to affect other parts of the body later on in life.
Since a definite cause of Lupus has never been determined, it is unlikely an individual can prevent it. However, there are ways to manage the disease. Lupus patients typically experience "flare-ups," in which their symptoms reappear after a hiatus or simply worsen. Seeking health care on a regular basis rather than seeking help only when flare-ups occur is an excellent way to manage the disease. Your doctor will be better informed of your symptoms and can offer treatment suggestions. A patient should also learn the warning signs of the disease and triggers which can cause a flare-up. Knowing about the disease can ward off the flare-ups and reduce their intensity.
Misconceptions about lupus are not uncommon. Many people believe that it is a disease which only affects women. While the majority of lupus patients are women, it is not entirely unusual for men to have the disease as well. People also tend to question the validity of the disease, since a lupus patient does not always have external symptoms. However, early symptoms, such as fatigue and fever, are not easily recognized. It is also untrue that these early symptoms of the disease are always indicative of Lupus. These early symptoms can easily be symptoms of another illness.