Living with LUPUS

Get to know more about the disease that may affect the women in our lives

We’ve heard it on television, being ruled out so many times in popular medical series House M.D. that a lupus diagnosis featured in season four had sufferers thanking the show for helping drive awareness. The disease had recently taken the spotlight again when international singer Selena Gomez revealed that she has been diagnosed with it late last year. R&B singer Toni Braxton has it, and pop diva Lady Gaga has been reported to have tested “borderline positive” for it.

“It” is lupus, and it has been reported that nine out of 10 people who suffer from the disease are female. The Philippines’ premier health care facility Makati Medical Center encourages everyone to take the time to get educated about the disease that may affect the women in our lives.

First thing’s first: What is lupus? Jose Paulo Lorenzo, MD, head of Makati Med’s section of Rheumatology under the Department of Medicine says, “Lupus is an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, our immune system does not efficiently recognize the self or our body, versus non-self, such as infection. It therefore attacks our body tissues, causing disease.” Lupus ranks in the top 10 most common autoimmune diseases.

And while we use it as a general, catch-all term, lupus actually has five specific types, which affect the body in different ways. Accounting for an estimated 70 percent of all cases is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). SLE impacts just about every major organ in the body including the heart, lungs, kidney, brain, joints, and skin. Majority of sufferers experience swelling and joint pain but other symptoms may vary extensively.

“Lupus is predominantly a disease of women. It is eight to 15 times more common in women than in age-matched men, and it is commonly diagnosed between the third and fourth decade of life during their child-bearing years.” Dr. Lorenzo points out.

Women, in fact, made up the majority of the 2,273 patients with SLE who consulted with various rheumatology centers around the country from 1995 to 2010, according to the Philippine-based Lupus Inspired Advocacy (LUISA) Project. The average age of women, reported LUISA, was 29.

“Many of us know a relative or a friend who has been diagnosed with lupus. We know that its disease course can range from very calm to very stormy. It can affect not only the patient but also their family and community,” Dr. Lorenzo says. He continues, “Early diagnosis and prompt management of the various disease manifestations are of utmost importance for prevention of worsening disease or complications.”

Around 90 percent of lupus sufferers experience fatigue, according to the John Hopkins Lupus Center. If sleeping adjustments don’t work, and you’ve reached a point where fatigue is debilitating, consult with your doctor. A very visible sign of lupus is the butterfly-shaped rash which appears on both cheeks and the bridge of the nose. The John Hopkins Lupus Center reports that about 50 percent of patients have this rash, which is usually triggered by exposure to sunlight. Other early signs include having a low-grade fever for no apparent reason, hair loss, pulmonary and kidney inflammation, dry eyes and mouth, as well as swollen joints.

The thing about lupus is that there’s still no known cause. “Etiology cannot be established. To this day, science has not determined the actual cause of lupus nor has it found a cure, though prescribed medication can keep symptoms at bay,” says Dr. Lorenzo. “Triggers to lupus flare include sun exposure, illnesses, physical, mental, and emotional stress.”

Treatment of the disease is not one-size fits all since it will vary greatly on how lupus affects a particular patient. At Makati Medical Center, lupus is treated with the expertise and care of specialists from different disciplines. Of course, no treatment can begin without expert diagnosis, and Makati Med’s Section of Rheumatology often work in tandem with specialists to diagnose and manage a spectrum of rheumatic diseases, including lupus.

Years ago, the chances for survival from lupus were slim: 50 percent at four years after diagnosis, says Today, great strides in medicine have increased the survival rate by 80 to 90 percent. “And things can only get better,” assures Dr. Lorenzo, “as experts continue to improve and find ways of diagnosing, managing, treating, and preventing lupus altogether.”

source: Manila Bulletin