By Allan Bucka Jones
Pride Health Columnist
Lupus is a potentially life threatening disease that can affect any organ in the body. It is referred to as the disease with a thousand faces because its symptoms vary so much from person to person, change so much over time and mimic so many other disorders, making lupus hard to diagnose. I have a female friend in her early 50’s, diagnosed with lupus over 20 years ago, who told me it took a full two years to have her lupus diagnosed. Lupus is a condition where the body is attacking itself. The body sees its own tissues as foreign and in its protective role attacks its own tissues and organs.
There is no known cause for lupus. It is believed that some people are genetically predisposed to developing the disease and something in the environment triggers the onset of the disease. There are specific lab tests to diagnose lupus. 95% of people diagnosed have a positive antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. However a positive ANA test does not automatically mean you have lupus. A positive ANA blood test shows your immune system is making an antibody (protein) that reacts with components of your body’s cells.
The majority of people with lupus are women, up to 90 percent, and most women develop signs and symptoms of the illness between the ages of 15 and 44.
Black women are three times more likely than Caucasian women to get lupus and develop severe symptoms, with as many as 1 in every 250 Black women affected. A University of Michigan study released in 2013, reported that young Black females have the highest rate of developing lupus, and most likely diagnosed at a younger age than whites and during childbearing years. Black females are also faced with a higher degree of serious health complications, such as kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplant.
The symptoms of lupus are many and varied. Common symptoms are: unexplained fever; extreme fatigue; red rash or colour change on the face; painful or swollen joints; chest pain upon deep breathing; unusual hair loss; pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress; sensitivity to the sun; swelling in legs or around eyes and swollen glands.
Systemic lupus erythematosus or (SLE) is the most common and serious form of lupus. However, there are different types of lupus. Discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) and sub-acute cutaneous lupus (SCLE) are forms of lupus where skin rashes and sun sensitivity are the main problems. Involvement of the internal parts of the body does not occur and life is not threatened. However, both DLE and SCLE may, at times, occur along with the systemic form of lupus. Performing appropriate tests to rule out systemic lupus erythematosus is therefore important when DLE or SCLE is newly diagnosed. Neonatal lupus is an uncommon form of lupus that affects the newborn child. This most often occurs in the children of women with SCLE or systemic lupus who also have a particular antibody (molecule that recognizes other molecules that are foreign to the body) in their bloodstream. Skin rashes that come and go and a decrease in some of the blood cells may occur but these problems go away within six months after birth. In rare cases, the tissues that control the normal heartbeat may be affected. However, this serious problem can often be corrected with a pacemaker. Drug-induced lupus is triggered by certain drugs and goes away when the offending drug is stopped.
The vast majority of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus can be treated successfully. Some patients have mild SLE that does not require any treatment, although regular follow-up is still necessary. Even SLE patients who have required treatment can reasonably hope that a remission will occur when little or no treatment will be needed. Most patients are treated by physicians who have specialized in rheumatology (called rheumatologists). As needed, consultation with other specialists is sought and many patients are also followed by physicians specialized in skin care (dermatologists), blood diseases (hematologists), kidney diseases (nephrologists) or immunologic diseases (immunologists).
If you are diagnosed with lupus, inform the relevant people in your life, like family members and your supervisor at work. There are days when you may not feel well and unable to fulfill commitments, and if those close to you know your illness, they will be more understanding. This will also reduce your stress level. Make full use of the clinics and support groups available. Lupus is not a death sentence. It is treatable. You can have lupus and live a very fulfilling life.
Talk to your family doctor or lupus specialist on ways to prevent lupus from being a controller of your life. Adjust your life accordingly and control lupus.
For more information on lupus, call Lupus Ontario toll free from anywhere in the province at 1.877.240.1099 or 905.415.1099.
Allan Bucka Jones is a Health Promoter and Broadcaster. He can be heard on “Allan Bucka Jones LIVE”, Sundays from 3 to 5pm on CHRY 105.5 FM, CHRY RADIO App, www.chry.fm option RDO.to , Rogers Digital Cable 945, Bell Fibe 973 or mobile app TuneIn Radio. You can contact Allan Bucka Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org.