Lupus: what you need to know about this chronic inflammatory disease

This month marks the Lupus Awareness Month, set aside to increase understanding amongst the general public on the disease.

Many people do not know much about the disease, which is said to be difficult to diagnose, a challenge to treat, and there is no cure.

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. This results in symptoms such as inflammation, swelling, and damage to joints, skin, kidneys, blood, the heart and lungs.

The exact cause of the disease is not known but several factors have been associated with it.

Lupus can develop in anyone, male or female of any age, including children, teenagers and adults.

SLE (Systemic lupus erythematosus) is the most common type of lupus.

Lorna Irungu-Macharia who is best remembered for the Omo-Pick-A-Box show which she hosted was in the news sometime back when she underwent three kidney transplants after suffering from lupus and kidney failure. After years of aches and pains and searching for the correct diagnosis from one doctor to another, she was finally diagnosed with lupus.

In her blog, Lorna states that she did not think she would live to see 30 but years on, she lives to tell her story and has a vibrant career. Early this year, she was appointed the Managing Director of Gina Din Group.

 

Photo: Melanin and Lupus

Common symptoms of lupus include
• Fatigue
• Fever
• Joint pain
• Stiffness and swelling
• A butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose
• Skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure (photosensitivity)
• Fingers and toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during stressful periods
• Shortness of breath
• Chest pain
• Dry eyes
• Headaches
• Confusion

Causes

The exact cause of SLE isn’t known but several factors have been associated with the disease. These include:
• Genetics
• Environment
• Sex – SLE affects more women than men and it sets in later for the men
• Hormones

Treatment

No cure for SLE exists. The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. Treatment can vary depending on how severe the symptoms are and which parts of the body SLE affects. They may include

  • Anti-inflammatory medications for joint pain and stiffness
  • Steroid creams for rashes
  • Corticosteroids to minimise the immune response
  • Antimalarial drugs for skin and joint problems
  • Disease-modifying drugs
  • Targeted immune system agents for more severe cases.

What Can be done to improve quality of life with lupus?

Though there is no cure for lupus, there are steps one can take to improve their sense of well-being and quality of life including:

  • Low impact exercises such as walking, swimming and bike riding can help prevent muscle wasting and lower your risk of developing osteoporosis(thinning of the bones). Exercise can also have a positive impact on mood.
  • Get enough rest. Pace yourself, alternating periods of activity with periods of rest.
  • Eat well. People with lupus should eat a nutritious well-balanced diet.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can interact with your medications to cause significant stomach or intestinal problems, including ulcers.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can impair circulation and worsen symptoms in people with lupus.
  • Play it safe in the sun. People with lupus may develop rashes or disease flares when exposed to the sun. All lupus patients should protect themselves from the sun; limit time in the sun especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., wearing sunglasses, a hat and sunscreen when you are out in the sun.
  • Treat fevers. Take care of fevers and infections promptly. A fever may indicate an infection or a lupus flare-up.
  • Be a partner in your care. Build an honest and open relationship with your doctor. Be patient. It often takes time to find the right medication and dosage that works best for you. Also, follow your doctor’s treatment plan and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • Get to know your disease. Keep a record of your lupus symptoms, which parts of your body are affected and any situations or activities that seem to trigger your symptoms.
  • Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to recognize when you need help and to ask for it. Consider joining a support group. It often helps to talk to others who have been through similar experiences.

Although doctors do not know exactly what causes this condition and other auto-immune diseases, most believe that it results from genetic and environmental stimuli. Since lupus is known to occur within families, doctors believe that it is possible to inherit a genetic predisposition to the condition.

There are no known genes, however, that directly cause the illness. It is probable that having an inherited predisposition for lupus makes the disease more likely only after coming into contact with some environmental trigger.

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