If you develop symptoms that you suspect may be lupus, or if your doctor thinks you have lupus, you may feel like you’re crazy or have questions like: What does this mean for your future? How to treat you? Will you ever feel healthy/normal again? And what is lupus?
Here we will cover your basic questions and more.
- Lupus is an autoimmune disease
No one knows what causes lupus, but doctors do know that symptoms can occur when your immune system isn’t working properly. The cells of the immune system, which are supposed to protect the body from various germs, treat normal, healthy cells as invaders and attack them, causing outbreaks that can affect the joints, kidneys, and almost every other system in the body.
- The symptoms of lupus are not clear
Lupus symptoms vary from person to person and depending on the severity of the body parts affected. Some of the most common symptoms of lupus are a rash and joint pain, says Konstantinos Loupasakis, MD, a rheumatologist at MedStar Washington Medical Center, but other symptoms can include fatigue, hair loss, mouth ulcers and fever. “We have many different symptoms with lupus,” he said.
- Lupus erythematosus can be diagnosed at any age
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women of childbearing age (ages 15 to 44) are at higher risk of developing lupus, but the disease is not limited to young adults. According to a study in the journal Nature Reviews Rheumatology, 10 to 20 percent of people with systemic lupus erythematosus are diagnosed before age 18, and adults can also have “late-onset lupus,” diagnosed after age 50.
- Race is a risk factor
People of color, especially African Americans, have a higher risk of lupus than whites, and the disease affects the population differently. A study of 42,000 cases of lupus found that Native Americans and blacks had higher death rates than white patients, while Hispanic and Asian patients had a lower risk of developing lupus. (Read more about stroke risk in black and Hispanic lupus patients.) Although the disease is genetic, researchers are looking at how socioeconomics and other factors contribute to the disparity.
- Women are more at risk
Most studies report that about 90 percent of lupus patients are women, according to a review of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Workshop. Studies also show that men suffer more damage in the early stages of the disease and have a lower survival rate. Hormones play a role in the gender gap, but research doesn’t provide clear answers, Dr. Loupasakis said.
- You’ll want an expert
The symptoms of lupus are unclear and the condition requires regular monitoring, so if your GP suspects an autoimmune disease such as lupus, you will need to be referred to a specialist. “If you have severe disease, a rheumatologist should be involved in evaluating that diagnosis,” says Jason Liebowitz, M.D., a rheumatologist at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Dr. Loupasakis adds that with a confirmed diagnosis, lupus patients will see their rheumatologist every three months.