Lupus is an autoimmune condition that usually affects the skin, joints and, in rare cases, the organs.
Like any autoimmune disease, when lupus develops, the body’s natural defences – antibodies – attack healthy cells, tissue and organs instead of invading pathogens.
It’s a condition that’s difficult to diagnose and is not fully understood. This is partly because lupus symptoms range broadly in type and severity, and can be similar to many other conditions.
There are three main types of lupus: Discoid Lupus Erythematosus – DLE, Drug-induced Lupus, and Systemic Lupus Erythematosus – SLE. While Lupus symptoms generally range from skin rashes and chronic tiredness to joint pain and inflammation, there can be dangerous complications with certain types. Lupus can be more serious when it affects someone with an existing autoimmune disease, leaving them open to conditions like kidney failure and heart disease.
Ongoing research and medical advances means lupus can often be effectively managed with the right support. Many people diagnosed with the condition experience a good quality of life and normal life expectancy.
Predominantly found in women, SLE affects body tissue and organs and may be compounded by other conditions such as thyroid disease. Characteristic symptoms of SLE range from unexpected bouts of fatigue to pain, that if left untreated can lead to stress and depression.
Affecting the skin, DLE can result in red marks that can potentially develop into scars, alopecia (hair loss) and bald patches appearing on the body. This mild form of lupus is easily treated with medication and by avoiding direct sunlight.
This form of lupus may be triggered by specific medications. It can usually be managed by either changing or stopping a particular medication in consultation with a medical professional.
There are grey areas when it comes to knowledge about the causes of lupus. Some believe it may be triggered by environmental or genetic factors. The genetics theory stems from the mutation in certain genes affecting the immune system. Genetics may also shed some light on why women are prone to developing the condition. Women have a pair of X chromosomes - the ones more likely to contain mutated genes - and in turn affect the immune system.
Lupus has also been linked with exposure to sunlight and hormonal changes during pregnancy or puberty.
Lupus diagnosis sometimes only happens once other diseases have been ruled out, owing to the fact that the symptoms can be so varied in terms of scope and intensity.
Your doctor should be the first port of call should you experience any lupus-like symptoms. Then it’s far easier to treat and manage before the outside chance of complications can occur.
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