May is acknowledged as Lupus Awareness Month and the Lupus Foundation of America hopes to inform and educate the public of this chronic autoimmune disease that attacks the body.
According to the organization, many symptoms of lupus imitate those of other illnesses, and come and go over time, making diagnosis difficult. Lupus causes an overactive immune system which produces antibodies that attack both healthy and unhealthy body tissue. People diagnosed with lupus can continue living a normal life, even though the disease affects the organs and joints.
Breanna O’Neal, from Chipley, Fl., a physical therapy student at Florida A&M University was diagnosed with lupus in September 2014. She remembers being in denial at first, but it wasn’t until a fellow student was moving her shoulder and the agonizing joint pain made her realize there was an issue.
“I woke up and could not move. I had to scream for help and that is when I knew there was a serious problem”, recalls O’Neal.
Lupus affects the musculoskeletal system and more than 90 percent of people with lupus will experience joint and/or muscle pain at some time during the course of their illness.
O’Neal suffers from lupus nephritis, which is kidney inflammation. She has to take medication daily including a steroid called prednisone that has side effects of moon face (chubby cheeks).
She says that the only negative impact that the medication has is the weight gain and how the steroids have affected her skin. The medication has made it easier on her and she hopes to go into remission soon.
Stephanie Andrews, a clinical pharmacist, also suffers from lupus. The journey has helped motivate her to educate anyone with questions or who has been recently diagnosed
“I have learned that you go through something for a reason. It happened to me so I could go through the hard part (hair loss) and talk about it with others,” said Andrews. “The journey has helped motivate me and educate anyone with questions or has been recently diagnosed.”
Andrews got married in July 2014 and says she eventually wants to start a family, but she has to make sure her lupus is under control and maintained.
“Lupus can lead to a high-risk pregnancy, so it would have to be a planned pregnancy. We can’t have any surprises,” she added.
Autoimmune diseases can be a gene link in families but lupus is not passed genetically.
C. Perry Brown, MSPH, D.Ph., an epidemiology and biostatistics professor at FAMU, states that African American women are more susceptible to this particular autoimmune disease.
“Lupus is three times more common in women than men and it is more common in African American women,” said Brown.
Both African American and Hispanic women develop lupus at a younger age and have more symptoms at diagnosis including kidney problems and scientists believe it may have something to do with their hormones, according to the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation.
As of now, there is no cure for lupus.
For more information visit www.lupus.org.