Sunanda Pushkar, wife of Union Minister Shashi Tharoor, who recently passed away allegedly of a drug overdose was suffering from an auto-immune disease called lupus. While it wasn’t the direct cause of her death (we’ll have to wait for the official autopsy report for that), it’s a known fact that lupus can be a very trying to disease to suffer from. Patients diagnosed with lupus can easily panic because they haven’t heard of the disease before and the term auto-immune can be scary. They not only suffer from persistent attack but also constantly worry about dying. However, in this day and age patients suffering from the condition can expect a better quality of life. In this article, we tell you eight things you ought to know about the ailment with inputs from Dr Atul Gattani, Consultant Rheumatologist at Wockhardt Hospital, Vashi.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease
Lupus is regular name of the autoimmune disease called lupus erythematosus. It occurs when the immune system of your body starts attacking itself or becomes allergic to itself. It kind of over reacts to foreign stimulus and generates a large amount of antibodies which attack different tissues in the body. Sometimes, the autoimmune reaction is limited to the skin tissue (in discoid lupus erythematosus-DLE); in other cases the reaction is seen throughout the body (systemic lupus erythematosus-SLE). Here are more articles on autoimmune diseases.
The actual cause of the disease is still not known
The actual cause is not known because there is no defined trigger that has been identified. ‘There are multiple genes implicated that increase the chances of developing lupus. Sometimes people whose family members have other autoimmune disease may develop lupus’, says Dr Gattani.
Women are likelier to get it than men
Anybody can suffer from lupus but it more common in women than in men. ’Women of child bearing age are mainly affected by lupus, though it can be seen in children and elderly. It mainly affects people in their 20s and 30,’ says Dr Gattani.
Patients can lead a normal life
Most people suffering from lupus can live a normal life like others. Normally, patients with lupus complain of fatigue, loss of appetite, arthritis, ulcers, muscle pain and hairfall. But complications depend on the organ under attack and the severity of the condition. Read more about controlling arthritis.
‘Lupus can almost involve any organ in body and in active state can cause many complications which can be life threatening. The most common complication involves kidney damage and failure, and involvement of brain,’ says Dr Gattani
Variable symptoms make diagnosis more difficult
Dr Gattani says ‘Diagnosis of lupus is not difficult as such but as lupus is less common than other autoimmune diseases, people and several health care providers are not aware about it and then it’s too late when the patient is referred to a rheumatologist, doctors who looks after these patients.’ Moreover, the symptoms of lupus are extremely variable. A person suffering from lupus goes to the doctor for symptoms shown by the disease with respect to the tissue it affects. Plus, there are intermittent flare-ups which imitate a lot of other diseases. Read more about how low levels of vitamin D can cause flare-ups in lupus.
Characteristic symptoms of lupus are development of a ‘butterfly rash’ on the cheeks and sensitivity to sunlight. Further blood tests and ANA (antinuclear antibody) testing is done to confirm the disease. ANA are nothing but proteins that attach to DNA. A person having lupus will have antibodies against ANA in their system.
Treatment can control the symptoms of lupus but prevention is not possible
There is no cure for the disease as of now. But there are a lot of treatment options which can control the symptoms of lupus. For joint and muscle pain, killers like ibuprofen are given. Hydroxychloroquine in combination with quinacrine is especially effective in patients who experience fatigue, skin rashes and joint diseases. Immunosupressants like methotrexate and cyclosporine are also prescribed to lower the over activity of immune system.
Dr Gattani says, nothing can be done to prevent lupus. but taking proper care and early diagnosis can prevent life threatening complications. He also mentions that there are several advancements in treatment of lupus and many more research advances that can help patients in near future.
Patients need to alter their diet
Yes. Lupus affects the skin and patients suffering from lupus are more prone to suffer from allergies. There are many foods that tend to increase flare-ups in lupus. You should discuss dietary changes with your doctor to minimize allergic reactions. Read more about foods you can eat when you’re suffering from lupus.
Also read: Selena Gomez suffering from lupus
- The Lupus Book: A Guide for Patients and Their Families by Daniel Wallace
Lupus: The Facts by Graham Hughes
- Lupus (http://www.webmd.com/)