Lupus is a poorly understood disease. While most people think lupus is a rare disease, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There isn’t much publicity regarding lupus, but it is far more common than most realize. At least 1.5 million Americans have lupus, with more than 16,000 new cases being reported each year. The actual number may be even higher, as there have been no large-scale studies to show the actual number of people in the U.S. living with lupus.
Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing ages from 15 to 44, however men, children and teenagers develop lupus as well. Women of color are two to three times more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease which can damage any joint or organ in the body. Chronic means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years. In lupus something goes wrong with the immune system in the body that fights off viruses, bacteria and germs (foreign invaders like the flu). Normally, our immune system produces proteins called antibodies, which protect the body from those invaders. However, autoimmunity means that your body cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues. As a result, it creates autoantibodies (“auto” means “self”) which attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain and damage in various parts of the body.
Because lupus can affect so many different organs in the body, a wide range of signs and symptoms can occur.
These symptoms may come and go and different symptoms may appear at different times during the course of the disease. The most common symptoms are extreme fatigue, headaches, painful or swollen joints, fever, anemia, swelling or pain in the chest or breathing problems, pleurisy (lungs), pericarditis (heart), butterfly rash across cheeks and nose, sun or light sensitivity, hair loss, abnormal blood clotting, fingers turning blue or white with cold (Raynaud’s phenomenon), mouth or nose ulcers, and numerous other signs and symptoms which can affect any joint or organ in the body. It is a great imitator, as its symptoms can mimic those of other illnesses. It is somewhat difficult to diagnose and patients sometimes suffer for years before a positive diagnosis and proper treatment can take effect.
The Lupus Foundation of Florida sponsors lupus support groups, one of which we are fortunate to have here in Southwest Florida. The group meets on the third Saturday of each month at Physicians Regional Medical Center at 8300 Collier Blvd. in Naples. The meetings are held in the Palm Dining Room from 10:30 AM until noon. Everyone is welcomed; patients, families and interested parties are invited to learn and share information.
For more information call Marilyn Honahan at 239-398-4800 or Jan Cirillo at 239-389-2749.
Lupus is not contagious, you can’t “catch” lupus or “give” lupus to someone. Lupus is not like or related to cancer. Cancer is a condition of malignant or abnormal cells that grow rapidly and spread into surrounding tissues Lupus is an autoimmune disease as described above, however some of the treatments for lupus may include immunosuppressive drugs that are also used in chemotherapy. Lupus is not like or related to HIV (Human Immunosuppressive Deficiency) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). In HIV or AIDS the immune system is underactive, in lupus the immune system is overactive. Lupus can range from mild to life threatening and should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life.