Around the world, there are an estimated 1.5 million people who have been diagnosed with lupus, including famous personalities like singer Selena Gomez and R&B star Toni Braxton.
Nowadays, lupus is not anymore considered as a rare medical condition. However, it can be quite tricky as the manifestations may vary from person to person. Thus, lupus is often described as ‘a disease with a thousand faces’ and ‘the great pretender’ as many of its symptoms mimic those associated with other illnesses and medical conditions.
The word ‘lupus’ is actually Latin for ‘wolf.’ The condition alludes to the wolf because in general, the skin rashes it brings may resemble bites of a wolf or markings on a wolf’s face.
Another common sign is the butterfly-shaped rash that may appear on one of both cheeks and/or the bridge of the nose in a patient. According to John Hopkins Lupus Center, around 50% of lupus patients have this rash, which could be triggered by exposure to direct sunlight.
Through the years, there have been persistent misconceptions about lupus. First, many people mistake the condition as a skin disease because of the rashes. In reality, it is not. Second, some instantly think that it is communicable, when it is actually not. Thus, there should be no reason to avoid hanging around or living with a lupus patient.
Lastly, some people think having lupus is like having cancer—death would come in the short term. Contrary to this belief, lupus may not be curable but it is treatable. A patient could still enjoy life and live longer if he/she would be guided accordingly with a lupus medical team, if all required medications are taken, and if an appropriate healthy lifestyle is observed.
Research efforts also point out that it is more likely to affect women than men. Based in available global data, nine out of 10 lupus patients are female. However, lupus affecting men should not be ruled out. It can be remembered that the condition is said to have led to the demise of a former Philippine president.
Cause and types
Lupus is a general term for a medical condition that can still be categorized into five types, each affecting a patient’s body in various ways. Globally, an estimated 70% of lupus cases are Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) that may impact any major body organ including the heart, lungs, brain, kidney, brain, joints, and skin. Another common type is discoid lupus that mainly affects the skin, resulting to appearance of lesions and scarring.
The real cause behind the development of lupus is yet to be determined, though research efforts continue to look at the possibility of it being a hereditary condition. But as an autoimmune condition, it is characterized by the loss of the body’s immune system (disease-fighting system) to distinguish between foreign substances and its own cells or tissues.
Thus, when one has lupus, his/her immune system produces antibodies that attack itself, leading to inflammation in various body parts and to manifestation of other lupus symptoms.
It may take some time before one is diagnosed with the condition because as mentioned, its symptoms can also be attributed to many other diseases. In general, its onset can mimic symptoms of the common flu.
It is advisable to seek medical attention if you experience some of these common lupus symptoms:
• Joint pain
• Swelling of legs
• Bluish fingers
• Butterfly-shaped rashes on one or both cheeks
• Persistent fever
• Hair loss
The World Lupus Federation has set May 10 as World Lupus Day.