Many people are familiar with symptoms and treatments for cancer or stroke. However, there are other widespread, serious conditions that can be more difficult to diagnose, like lupus.
Lupus is one of the least recognized major diseases in the United States, but it affects more than 1.5 million Americans each year, according to the Lupus Research Institute. Unlike other common diseases, lupus doesn’t have a simple test to confirm its diagnosis.
Lupus is a chronic inflammatory autoimmune disease that typically occurs in women. More than 90 percent of those suffering from lupus are women, typically between ages 15 and 44. Lupus occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own organs and tissues, taking a toll on the body’s joints, kidneys, skin, blood, cells, heart and lungs. The most common type is systemic lupus erythematosus, which can range from mild to life-threatening.
Symptoms vary, making lupus difficult to diagnose. In many cases, those suffering from the disease will notice a butterfly-shaped facial rash across both cheeks. Other symptoms may include painful or swollen joints, sores in the mouth or nose, low blood count, unexplained fever for several days, chest pain associated with breathing, extreme fatigue, sensitivity to the sun, depression, hair loss, or fingertips and/or toes becoming pale or purple from the cold or stress. Symptoms might develop slowly or suddenly, and can be temporary or permanent.
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Signs and symptoms of lupus can also mimic other ailments, such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, hypothyroidism, rosacea and other skin conditions, depression, viral and bacterial infections and multiple sclerosis.
Those who notice an unexplained facial rash or other symptoms should consult their physician for an examination. The only way to diagnose lupus is through the testing of blood and urine, along with a clinical assessment. Doctors look at the combination of symptoms and a series of lab tests to diagnose lupus.
The cause for lupus is unknown in most cases, but some people are born with a higher risk through genetics, and develop the disease when coming into contact with an environmental factor. This may include exposure to the sun, having an infection, or even some types of anti-seizure, blood pressure and antibiotic medications.
There is no cure, but treatments can help control symptoms. Treatment depends on a person’s signs and symptoms, and often include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as Aleve or ibuprofen; anti-malarial medication such as Plaquenil; corticosteroids to counter the inflammation of lupus; or an immunosuppressant, which may be used to suppress the immune system.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting symptoms of lupus, notify your physician to be tested. Treatment can significantly improve a patient’s quality of life and reduce the damaging effects of lupus.
Dr. Anil Harrison is with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.