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Disease Spotlight: Lupus

The next autoimmune illness that we are focusing on in our Disease Spotlight series is represented by a butterfly, due to its characteristic butterfly rash. Do you think you know which autoimmune disease it is?

If you guessed lupus, you are correct!

In lupus, the autoimmune system attacks many different body systems, including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, reproductive organs, and lungs.  Some types of lupus have special names. Discoid lupus primarily affects the skin. Lupus nephritis primarily affects the kidneys. There is also a type of lupus called drug-induced lupus, but often when people are referring to lupus, they are talking about SLE: systemic lupus erythematous. 

Lupus is difficult to diagnose, because as with many autoimmune diseases, its signs and symptoms often mimic those of other ailments, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and scleroderma. 

Lupus can be an incredibly painful, debilitating, and life-altering condition with serious complications. Symptoms of lupus include fatigue, fever, joint pain, stiffness, a butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and bridge of nose, sensitivity to light, Raynaud’s phenomenon, dry eyes, shortness of breath, chest pain, muscle pain, and “brain fog”. 

Scientists estimate that 1.5 million Americans live with some form of lupus, and patients are often diagnosed in their 20s or 30s. Lupus often affects more women than men and is more common among those from African-American and Asian heritage. 

Sun exposure, stress, infections, and poor diet can trigger lupus flare-ups. 

Lupus is diagnosed through a series of blood tests, physical exams, and imaging/scans.  Typically, rheumatologists specialize in lupus but other specialists are often consulted. There is no cure for lupus Aspirin, ibuprofen and, in severe cases, steroids, are used to treat the symptoms of lupus. Anti-malarial drugs, DMARDs, and immunosuppressive drugs are used to calm the immune system to limit its attack on the body’s healthy tissue. Patients are often referred to physical therapy as well.

Celebrities with lupus, including Selena Gomez, Toni Braxton, Lady Gaga, and Nick Cannon,  have increased the public awareness of lupus.

There are some great organizations, bloggers, and patient advocacy groups out there, too, to help you along your journey. Be sure to check out the Lupus Foundation of America, Arthritis Foundation, and the Lupus Research Alliance, among others.

If you live with SLE, we would love to hear your story. Feel free to email ashley@autoimmuneregistry.org if you wish to contribute a guest blog about life with lupus.