Lupus is a chronic disorder that affects the body’s immune system. A normal immune system is able to recognize unhealthy cells or substances in the body and fight them off, but the immune systems of people with lupus cannot differentiate between harmful cells and healthy ones, and so the body overcompensates by attacking all cells and tissues alike.
The symptoms of the disease vary, but lupus can affect the skin, joints, kidneys, and other organs. Lupus occurs more commonly in women, Asians, and African Americans between the ages of 10 and 50. The underlying causes of the disorder are not fully known.
General symptoms of lupus, which vary from person to person and may be mild or severe, include:
• Pain and swelling of the joints
• Chest pain when taking a deep breath
• General discomfort or feeling of malaise
• Hair loss
• Mouth sores
• Sensitivity to sunlight
• Rash, including a “butterfly” rash on the cheeks and nose which worsens with sun exposure
• Swollen lymph nodes
Additional symptoms of lupus vary according to which part of the body is affected.
Brain and nervous system symptoms can include:
• Some cognitive impairment
• Numbness, tingling, or pain in the arms and legs
• Change in personality
• Risk of stroke
• Vision problems
Digestive tract: abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
Heart: abnormal heart rhythms, or arrhythmias.
Kidneys: blood in the urine.
Lungs: difficulty breathing and coughing up blood.
Skin: uneven or patchy skin color, fingers that change color when cold (Raynaud’s phenomenon).
Lupus is diagnosed through a combination of blood tests, physical examinations, and neurological exams. There is no cure for the disease, but treatment of symptoms can make lupus more bearable. The 10-year survival rate for people with lupus is 85%.
Information and support for patients with lupus is readily available. The Lupus Foundation of America aims to help sufferers of the disease cope with their diagnoses, and some famous figures with lupus have come forward to show their support for others with the disorder.
Celebrities with lupus include Toni Braxton, Michael Jackson, and Seal.
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