What is Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the body produces antibodies, normally used to fend off infections and diseases, that actually work against the body's own healthy cells. It is a chronic condition that affects every patient differently. It is known as the disease of many faces because so many of the symptoms can resemble other minor conditions (such as the flu or a cold), and it can often be misdiagnosed. It is estimated that the average patient sees three doctors and can suffer symptoms for as long as four years before a diagnosis is reached (www.lupus.org).
Once the disease is diagnosed, however, treatment can only focus on alleviating the symptoms, as there is no cure for lupus or treatment that will keep the body from producing antibodies.
It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million Americans are affected by lupus and one of its manifestations (www.lupus.org): systemic lupus erythematosus, discoid lupus erythematous, drug-induced lupus erythematosus, and neonatal lupus. Lupus can occur at any age, usually in women between the ages of 18 and 24, and may present for the first time during pregnancy or shortly after giving birth. It is unclear why the disease occurs more in women than in men, or why "African Americans are three to four times more likely than Caucasians to develop the disease" (www.csmc.edu).
Commonly reported symptoms include:
- extreme fatigue
- painful or swollen joints
- unexplained fever
- anemia (low levels of red blood cells or low total blood volume)
- swelling (edema) in feet, legs, hands, and/or around eyes
- pain in chest on deep breathing (pleurisy)
- butterfly-shaped rash across cheeks and nose
- sensitivity to light or sunlight
- hair loss
- abnormal blood clotting
- fingers turn white and/or blue when cold
- ulcers in the mouth and nose
None of these symptoms either on their own or in combination are any guarantee or indication that a person has lupus.
The Effects of Lupus on the Lungs
The effects of lupus are usually most noticeable in the joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood, or brain.