May is ‘Lupus Awareness Month’
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May is ‘Lupus Awareness Month’

Dr Ajesh Maharaj, Specialist Physician/Rheumatologist, shares important information about the disease. These quick facts will help you understand the disease in order to help educate others.

Blackboard with text "Lupus" / iStock
Blackboard with text "Lupus" / iStock

1. What is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system undergoes dysregulation and attacks “itself”. Our immune system is designed to regulate itself to identify its own tissues and prevent it from damaging itself. However, in patients with lupus, this mechanism is lost and some cells in the body are identified as “invaders” and antibodies are formed against itself.

2. What are the symptoms of Lupus?

Symptoms of lupus are variable and can involve many organ systems in the body. Lupus is a disease that predominantly affects young females in the childbearing age. 90 to 95% of patients are young females. The symptoms include skin rashes on the face and body, as well as on the scalp. Patients have increased sensitivity to sunlight. They can have sores on the mouth. They can have the typical butterfly rash on the cheeks across the nose bridge. Hair loss. Scarring of the scalp. Joint pains. Lupus can also affect the kidneys, resulting in kidney failure. It can affect the brain resulting in strokes at an early age and it can even cause psychiatric symptoms.

3. How is the disease caused?

The cause of the disease is unknown but may be related to an interplay between genetic and environmental factors.

4. Are there different stages of the disease?

There are no stages of lupus, however, lupus can affect different organ systems in different ways. The disease may be mild to life-threatening. When it affects the kidneys, there are different classes of kidney involvement from class 1 to class 6, which is made on kidney biopsy.

5. What treatments are available?

There are various treatment options available and treatment is tailored for each individual patient. The aggressiveness of therapy is matched to the severity of the disease.

6. Can it be prevented?

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent lupus since we do not know the cause of it.

7. Lupus is not a disease which is commonly known – what is the importance of educating the community about the disease?

Lupus is an uncommon disease. It affects many organ systems in predominantly young females. A high index of suspicion for the disease is important and education lies not only for the patients but for general practitioners and general physicians as well.

8. Where can one find help?

Arthritis foundation of South Africa.

9. Advice to patients/community about the disease?

Lupus can be easily treated when diagnosed properly and early. Early institution of appropriate therapy improves outcomes and longevity in these patients. It's best for patients with lupus to see a rheumatologist for long-term management. There is a misconception amongst communities that once a female is diagnosed with lupus, she cannot have children. There is nothing further from the truth. If a patient is diagnosed with lupus and the disease is well controlled with treatment, these patients can easily conceive and have a normal full-term pregnancy. There is a higher risk of miscarriages in a certain group of patients, and these patients must be monitored more closely. As long as a patient has the active disease, she cannot conceive.

For more information, contact a specialist or visit Arthritis foundation of South Africa: https://www.arthritis.org.za/

Main image courtesy of iStock

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