Lupus: A Debilitating Disease

Imagine if your body’s immune system, which is designed to attack germs, malfunctions and attacks itself? This is what happens during lupus, an autoimmune disorder that affects organs all over the body – with deadly consequences. It has changed the lives of celebrities like Toni Braxton, Seal and Nick Cannon. Learn more about this complicated and debilitating disease.

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While many are aware of heart disease, diabetes or breast cancer, few know about lupus, also known as systemic lupus, erythematosus (SLE). It’s a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect the skin, joints, heart, kidneys, lungs, nervous system and many other parts of the body. A person with lupus can experience periods of temporary inflammatory flares punctuated by periods of remission. The symptoms can be mild or severe.

No two people experience lupus in the exact same way. Common symptoms include fatigue, fever and weight loss. However, other symptoms vary depending on the organ that is being attacked. Toni Braxton first discovered her lupus diagnosis after developing pericarditis, inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart. She then continued to have problems with her heart. Nick Cannon, however, had trouble with his kidneys. He was admitted to the hospital for kidney failure last year and later had blood clots in one of his lungs.

Other common signs and symptoms include:

  • Joint pain or stiffness

  • Skin rashes, including a butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and nose; most get worse with sun exposure

  • Fingers or toes that turn white or blue when exposed to cold or during periods of stress

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Headaches, confusion or memory loss

  • Propensity for blood clots

No one knows what causes lupus. However, studies have shown that those who have a family history of lupus are more likely to develop it. Lupus flares can be triggered by drugs, infections, stress or even sunlight. It’s likely that lupus comes from a combination of environmental exposures and genetic influences.

Lupus tends to afflict women in their 20s and 30s. In fact, 90% of lupus patients are women. Lupus is also more common in African-Americans, though Asians and Latinos have higher rates of lupus than Caucasians. African-Americans also are more likely to experience severe complications.

Currently, this is no known cure for lupus. However, there are several treatments than can lengthen the lifespan and decrease the chance for flare ups. Drugs are given to suppress the immune system and thin the blood to prevent blood clots. In addition to drugs, doctors often advise lupus patients to take it easy, as stress can aggravate the body and potentially trigger lupus flare ups. Also, keeping a healthy and clean diet full of fruits and vegetables may be beneficial as well. 

To learn more about lupus, visit the Lupus Foundation of America.