Not merely a rash

Lupus disease behaves like a pack of wolves, constantly biting at different organs of its prey - the hapless patient. But with early diagnosis and treatment, it needn’t be deadly, assures Dr Sharath Kumar

Ever heard of lupus? The disease causes the body's immune system to become hyperactive and instead of protecting the body, start attacking normal, healthy tissues. Lupus affects about one in two thousand people.

It is much more common in women, with nearly five times more women being
diagnosed with lupus, compared to men. It is most common among those aged between 15-40 years. However, even children and infants can suffer from
lupus. The scientific cause of lupus is unknown.

But, it is suspected that it is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Lupus is actually Latin for wolf. The name is derived from the fact that many patients with this auto-immune disease, particularly fair-skinned women, tend to develop a facial rash that gives them the appearance of a wolf! However, more than the rash, the disease itself behaves like a pack of wolves, constantly biting at
different organs of its prey - the hapless patient.

It occurs when the immune system of your body starts attacking itself. It generates a large amount of antibodies, which attack different tissues in the body.

Awareness about lupus is negligible in India. Many patients suffer for a considerable period before they are recognised as suffering from lupus.

It is estimated that anywhere between one to ten lakh Indians suffer from this disease. Very often, people mistake it as skin or orthopaedic problem and go in for unsuitable treatments.

They approach the specialists only when the disease has reached an advance stage. This is dangerous, since lupus can damage various organs, and can even lead to death, if not diagnosed and treated early.

There is no one test to diagnose lupus and it may take months or years to make the diagnosis.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for lupus. However, there are treatments that
help ease and manage the symptoms, minimising the effect that the condition has on a person’s daily life.

Historically, lupus used to be a deadly disease. As
doctors have learnt more about this disease, they have become better at
managing it.

Hence, nowadays, hardly anyone succumbs to lupus when diagnosed early and treated appropriately. Most patients can lead normal lives, though the disease needs to be carefully monitored and the treatment must be adjusted periodically, as necessary, to prevent serious complications.

Symptoms of lupus

*  Painful or swollen joints and muscle pain

*  Unexplained fever

* Red rashes, most commonly on the face

*  Chest pain upon deep breathing

*  Unusual loss of hair

*  Pale or purple fingers or toes from cold or stress (Raynaud's phenomenon)

*  Sensitivity to the sun

*  Swelling (oedema) in legs or around eyes

* Mouth ulcers

*  Swollen glands

*  Extreme fatigueManaging lupus

* Take all medications. Visit your rheumatologist regularly. Learn all about lupus, your medications, and your progress.

* Stay active. This will usually help keep joints flexible and may prevent
cardiovascular complications.

* Avoid excessive sun exposure. Ultra- violet rays in sunlight can cause a skin rash    to flare.

*  Minimise stress and fatigue

* Maintain normal body weight.

* Time pregnancies depending on when lupus activity is low.

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