Often symbolized by a picture of the sun or of a butterfly, lupus is ironically the opposite of these aesthetic symbols.
In fact, those diagnosed with Lupus are directed to stay out of the sun to prevent “flare ups” or disease activity. Too much exposure can cause a “butterfly” shaped rash to appear across the cheeks and the nose.
“I’ve spent lots of time in the sun not knowing it was bad. I just thought I had age spots,” said Lydia Vickers, a member of the Lupus Foundation of America Northwest Florida Chapter.
Lupus Erythematosus, or more commonly known, lupus, is a disorder of the immune system that leads to chronic inflammation of the connective tissue.
Essentially, the body is harming its own healthy cells and tissues. Normally, the immune system makes proteins or antibodies to protect the body against viruses, bacteria, and other foreign materials called antigens.
In autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, the immune system can’t tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissues.
For some, it may be the skin that is affected, while others may have any number of the organs affected, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, lungs, heart, blood, and the immune system.
The degrees of Lupus vary from mild to severe. In some cases, the systematic form can be fatal.
There are many types of Lupus, but the two main types of the disease vary from the part of the body that is affected.
Systematic Lupus is the most common and most severe form of Lupus.
It involves mainly the internal systems of the body, including the organs.
It is more common in people between the ages of 15 and 45, but it can occur in childhood or later in life.
“Lupus is also more common in African American women and women of Asian decent,” commented Vickers.
Discoid Lupus only involves the skin, mainly the face, neck, and sometimes the upper chest or even the scalp.
In some cases red, raised, and /or scaly areas of the skin may appear. The raised areas can become thick and scaly and may result in scarring.
The rash can last for several days or even years. Reoccurrence of the rash is possible.
Few people who have discoid lupus also have or may develop systemic lupus.
A skin rash may be present in both Discoid and Systematic Lupus, but only a doctor can tell which type is present.
It is often difficult to diagnose lupus because the symptoms are similar to other diseases.
“It’s important to ask your doctor about any symptoms that you may be experiencing that last longer than a week or two,” said Tiana Deas, 22, a senior physical therapy student from Jacksonville who has done some research on the subject.
“Many people are living with Lupus and don’t even know it.”
Common symptoms of the disease include achy or swollen joints, muscle pain, unexplained fevers, anemia, and swollen glands.
Also, prolonged or extreme fatigue, sensitivity to sun and red rashes, most commonly on the face, are found in lupus patients.
The causes of lupus are unknown. Since the disease is so complex, it is likely that a combination of genetic and environmental factors take play in causing the disease.
Researchers also believe that hormonal factors may contribute since lupus is 10 times more likely to occur in women than in men.
“There is currently no cure for lupus and that’s what the Alliance for Lupus Research is for,” said Ken Farber, spokesperson from the Alliance.
“We are working to prevent, treat, and cure lupus and its symptoms.”
Early diagnosis and proper medical treatment can help control the disease.