Lupus Awareness Month
Lupus is a cruel mystery we must all solve together
Lupus is an unpredictable and misunderstood autoimmune disease that ravages different parts of the body. It is difficult to diagnose, hard to live with, and a challenge to treat. Lupus is a cruel mystery because it's hidden from view and undefined, has a range of symptoms, and strikes without warning, and has no known cause or cure.
What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs). "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, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs ("foreign invaders," like the flu). Normally our immune systems produce proteins called "antibodies" which protect the body from these invaders.
"Autoimmunity" means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues ("auto" means "self"). As a result, it creates auto-antibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue.
These auto-antibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
5 Million people around the world are affected by the disease.
16,000 new cases of lupus are reported each year.
Lupus is not contagious.
Lupus is not like or related to cancer. Cancer is a condition of malignant, abnormal tissues that grow rapidly and spread into surrounding tissues.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, as described above. However, some treatments for lupus may include immuno-suppressant drugs that are also used in chemotherapy.
Lupus is not like or related to HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). In HIV or AIDS the immune system is under-active; in lupus, the immune system is overactive.
How common is lupus and who does it affect?
The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus. Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age. However, men, children, and teenagers develop lupus, too.
Most people with lupus develop the disease between the ages of 15-44. People with lupus can experience significant symptoms, such as pain, extreme fatigue, hair loss, cognitive issues, and physical impairments that affect every facet of their lives. Many suffer from cardiovascular disease, strokes, disfiguring rashes, and painful joints. For others, there may be no visible symptoms.
Lupus is two to three times more prevalent among women of color—African Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders—than among Caucasian women. Recent research indicates that lupus affects 1 in 537 young African American women.
How does Lupus Affect the Eyes?
Eye complications associated with Lupus are fairly common, which can be insignificant to potentially sight threatening. Lupus can affect both the external and internal parts of the eyes. Patients will often complain of either pain or inflammation with blurred vision. Dry eye syndrome is often associated with Lupus. Inflammation of the white part of the eye (the conjunctiva) or the colored part of the eye (iris) can occur. Cataracts formation, retinal bleeding, retinal tears, and optic nerve swelling can also complicate a person's vision.
Patients with Lupus can present with a rash over the eyelids or a butterfly rash extending across the cheeks to the bridge of the nose.
Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a collective doctor team consisting of Primary Care Provider, a Rheumatologist, and an Ophthalmologist or Optometrist. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life.