May is Lupus Awareness Month: What’s lupus and who’s at risk?

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect many parts of the body. Many people don’t know about the disease, who it affects or what the symptoms are, which is why May is Lupus Awareness Month.

What are the symptoms?

Jo Ann Bond, ACNS-BC, with Richmond Rheumatology Center, explained that individuals with this disease can have different symptoms that may range from mild to severe. She and information from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) noted some possible symptoms that could include:

  • Painful or swollen, stiff joints and muscle pain;
  • Butterfly rash on the face;
  • Fever;
  • Hair loss;
  • Blisters in the mouth or nose that don’t hurt;
  • Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is when fingers or toes turn white or purple from cold or stress;
  • Anemia;
  • Sun sensitivity that might cause fatigue or nausea; and,
  • Extreme fatigue.

Some people experience symptoms in only one body system. For example, they may only have painful joints, noted the NIH. Others will have many body systems affected. Lupus can also affect the body’s organs, including the lungs, kidneys, central nervous system, blood and blood vessels and heart.

What causes it?

The Mayo Clinic explained that the root cause is unknown in most cases. However, it appears to be a combination of a predisposition due to genes and a trigger in the environment. Some potential triggers include sunlight, various infections and even medications — particularly anti-seizure medications, blood pressure medications and antibiotics. Drug-induced lupus usually stops when the person stops the medication.a woman with her hand on her head

Who gets it?

According to the Lupus Research Alliance, more than 90 percent of people with the disease are women, mostly aged 15 to 44. Women of color are at double or triple the risk of getting lupus than Caucasian women.

What are the treatments?

Treatments and medications depend on the individual person’s form of the disease, along with how severe it is. For patients without organ involvement, conservative treatment may be enough. For those with more serious symptoms, it’s important to stop the body from attacking itself to prevent long-term damage or complications.

The American College of Rheumatology explained that treatments include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antimalarial drugs like hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil), corticosteroids and immune suppressants and biologics, which are specially formulated drugs that target parts of the immune system to alleviate symptoms. A patient may be on one or more of these drugs.

If you or a loved one has this autoimmune disorder, remember that most people with the disease can live normal lives. Treatment has improved greatly in the past few decades. Still, it can be difficult to cope with a chronic disease that limits your activity. Make sure to get good sleep and stay as active, as this will help you stay as healthy as possible while living with your disease.

If you have concerns or would like an appointment, visit: Richmond Rheumatology Center.

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