What Is Lupus?

Lupus is one of America’s least recognized major diseases. Nearly 1.5 million Americans have lupus. In fact, more Americans have lupus than cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, sickle-cell anemia, and cystic fibrosis combined, making it one of this country’s most prevalent medical problems. However, while lupus is widespread, awareness and accurate knowledge about it lag behind many other illnesses. Lupus is on the rise, and scientists don’t know exactly why.

What Exactly Is Lupus?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (S.L.E.), commonly called lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect virtually any organ of the body. In lupus, the body’s immune system, which normally functions to protect against foreign invaders, becomes hyperactive, forming antibodies that attack normal tissues and organs, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, and blood. Lupus is characterized by periods of illness, called flares, and periods of wellness, or remission.

Because its symptoms come and go and mimic those of other diseases, lupus is difficult to diagnose. There is no single laboratory test that can definitively prove that a person has this complex illness.

Types of Lupus
Although the broad term “lupus” usually refers to S.L.E., this is only one type of the illness. There are several other types of lupus, including Discoid lupus erythematosus and Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus, which mainly affects the skin; Drug-induced lupus, which is triggered by certain medications; and Neonatal lupus, a rare disease that can occur in newborn babies of women with SLE, Sjögren’s syndrome, or no disease at all.

Warning Signs of Lupus & How It Is Diagnosed
Unfortunately, the warning signs of lupus can mimic the warning signs of other diseases. Common symptoms include persistent low-grade fever, skin rash, extreme fatigue, and painful or swollen joints. No single test can be used to diagnose lupus, and it may take several months or years after symptoms first appear for doctors to make a definitive diagnosis. There are blood tests that a doctor can use to help diagnose lupus, but none of these tests are definitive.

The Importance of Early Detection and Treatment
Lupus is unpredictable, highly individualized, hard to live with – and sometimes fatal. To date, there is no known cause or cure. However, early detection and treatment can usually lessen the progression and severity of the debilitating disease. Anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-malarials, and steroids (such as cortisone and others) are often used to treat lupus. Cytotoxic chemotherapies, similar to those used in the treatment of cancer, are also used to suppress the immune system in lupus patients.

Statistics Reveal Risk Factors for Lupus
A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed a 60 to 70 percent upsurge in lupus deaths between 1979 and 1998. Each year during the study period, death rates were more than five times higher for women than for men, and more than three times higher for African Americans than for Caucasians. Lupus is also more common among Latino, Asian, and Native American women.

Ninety percent of lupus victims are women, and the onset of the disease usually occurs between the ages of l5 and 44. Lupus is also a leading cause of kidney disease, stroke, and premature cardiovascular disease in women of childbearing age. Unfortunately, statistics predict that 5 percent of children born to lupus-diagnosed mothers will eventually develop the disease themselves.

The Outlook for People With Lupus
While there is not yet a cure, research uncovers promising new findings each year. Over the last two decades, better diagnostic techniques and treatment methods have led to more effective management of lupus and its complications. Just twenty years ago, only 40 percent of people with lupus were expected to live more than three years following diagnosis. Now with earlier diagnosis, the latest therapies and careful monitoring, most people with lupus can look forward to a normal lifespan.

With your help, we can raise awareness of lupus so that patients can find help sooner. To date, the ALR has given more money to lupus research than any non-governmental agency in the world. Your donation to this performance supports the research that will continue to reveal new and better ways to diagnose, treat, and hopefully one day to cure this complex and devastating disease.

Alliance For Lupus Research
Lupus Research Institute
S.L.E. Lupus Foundation



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