Lupus is an autoimmune illness, or type of self-allergy, whereby the patient?s immune system creates antibodies which attack the person?s own body tissues. About 90% of sufferers are women.
Q: Lupus – strange name for an illness, isn?t it?
A: Yes – it?s the Latin word for wolf. Lupus vulgaris, a severe facial rash rarely seen now, was once thought to resemble a wolf?s bite.
Q: So what is lupus?
A: It?s an incurable immune system illness, probably genetic in origin and mainly suffered by females. Some 50,000 are now thought to have Lupus in the U.K. – it?s systemic, in that it can affect any part of the body and that?s the danger.
Q: What are the dangers?
A: Lupus can produce many symptoms and family doctors often fail to recognise it – meanwhile, a number of major organs can be damaged.
Q:Which major organs are liable to be damaged?
A: Principally the kidneys and the skin, also the heart, lungs and brain.
Q: So what are the symptoms to look out for?
A: The two major symptoms are joint and muscle pain and an extreme tiredness that won?t go away no matter how much you rest.
Rashes, depression, anaemia, feverishness, headaches, possible hair loss and mouth ulcers may all be part of the pattern of Lupus.
Noticeably, whilst the two major symptoms are invariably present, people with Lupus can differ greatly in their symptoms and how the illness can affect them – life threatening for a few, very mild for some.
Miscarriage, often recurrent, is another unhappy complication of Lupus.
Q: Is it a worldwide illness?
A: Yes, and it?s more common in black and Asian than white women.
Q: The symptoms – is it sometimes confused with other conditions?
A: Again the answer is ?yes? – worldwide it?s acknowledged as being more common than leukemia, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis.
Q: Can lupus be passed on by droplets or touch?
A: No, lupus is neither infectious nor contagious.
Q: The genetic link – what is that?
A: A number of illnesses arise from a faulty immune system – two we know well are arthritis and rheumatism. Often the lupus patient has family members with these autoimmune conditions or others such as MS, thyroid problems and diabetes.
Q: And women are the principle sufferers?
A: Yes – the main trigger of lupus is hormonal activity and change, and lupus can often trigger after childbirth or at the menopause, during puberty and usually between the ages of 15 and 55.
Q:But what exactly is lupus?
A: In lupus the immune system produces far too many antibodies which, circulating through th blood stream, cause reactions leading to inflammatory processes anywhere in the body.
Q: What other triggers are there?
A: Well, a viral infection, strong medication, sunlight, trauma, around puberty, after childbirth and the menopause can all contribute.
Any two or more of these can also combine to set off the illness.
Q: So lupus produces surplus antibodies – can they be offset in in some way suppressed?
A: That?s far from easy – the immune system is very complex and doctors are still trying to fully understand its workings. For the present, any one or more of a range of medications is prescribed to attempt to control the illness and to dampen down its effects.
Q: Are there lupus blood tests, and is diagnosis easy?
A: The range of symptoms can mislead GPs but there are specific blood tests available – the individual?s medical history gives good indications to lupus specialists, usually rheuma-tologists. Other specialists who may treat lupus patients include renal experts, obstetricians, dermatologists and cardiologists.
On balance, diagnosis is not easy but it would help enormously if family doctors were able to be better informed about lupus.
Q: The range of medications?
A: Yes – some lupus is so mild that no medication is needed and in other patients everyday anti-inflammatory drugs give control. For others, steroids are prescribed and non-steroidal drugs are also proving effective in controlling the illness with a few patients needing eg anti-cancer drugs to manage their lupus.
Q: Can patients ?self-manage? their lupus?
A: Patients can certainly be positive in obtaining good information on lupus and in learning to ?pace? themselves – rest is very essential.
Being open with family and friends about the unpredictable pattern of lupus helps, and stress, depression and pain each need to be ?managed?. Avoiding direct sunlight always helps.
Seeking assistance at the right time from doctors or the family takes some resolve but is a ?must?.
Q: What about the life expectancy of lupus patients?
A: This is now much improved and most patients can anticipate a normal lifespan – there?s no doubt that the advent some years ago of steroids has saved the lives of many lupus patients.
Q: What else should we know about lupus?
A: There?s far more undiagnosed lupus out there being ?put up with? and we have to increase awareness hugely if these people are to be diagnosed and then to get some quality back in their lives.
Lupus is not only ?for life? at present, having an ongoing impact upon the patient but also upon her or his parents, children, friends and colleagues.
Q: What about the next ten years?
A: Medical knowledge increases all the time and there?s no doubt that the lupus patient is having his or her illness under better control and management than ever before – the future looks hopeful.