he dramatic sign of lupus is a classical “butterfly” shaped reddening of the skin over the nose and cheeks. It’s not surprising people think it’s a skin condition. But it isn’t. It involves many organs.
The proper name for lupus is systemic lupus meaning it can involve multiple systems in the body, including vital organs.
This is because it belongs to a family of collagen disorders that destroys the collagen wherever it is. And collagen, being the scaffolding of every organ in the body, can be attacked by lupus anywhere and everywhere.
The kidneys may be attacked so severely failure ensues and a transplant is needed.
This is what happened to singer and actress Selena Gomez . She revealed she’d had a transplant as the result of her chronic lupus disease.
What happens is the immune system turns on itself and attacks the body, “seeing” it as alien. Lupus is known as an “autoimmune” disease because our own immune system is attacking our own tissues and organs.
Lupus is different in every person depending on which organs are attacked – but common ones are the skin, joints, kidneys and brain.
We have no idea why the body suddenly turns on itself.
About five million people worldwide have lupus and 90% of those people are women. In some, symptoms emerge slowly with tiredness and joint aches while in others the onset is rapid and severe. More severe symptoms include lung disease, heart problems and kidney inflammation.
About half of people who are diagnosed have problems with their kidneys, according to the US John Hopkins Lupus Center. They are put on medication to reduce inflammation and strong drugs to stop the overactive immune system from attacking healthy organs.
Lupus nephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys, can’t always be contained and the organ may fail. Dialysis or a transplant are the only answers.
But a new approach comes from researchers at Ohio State University who found exercise can help lower a person’s need for a kidney transplant.
Keeping fit was also found to help dampen down inflammation in the body, another key factor that damages the kidneys of sufferers.
The combination of lower-stress levels and less inflammation could lessen the need for patients to have kidney transplants. The researchers are now studying tai chi to see if it is a drug-free option to reduce inflammation in lupus sufferers.
As we have yet to find a cure, treatment with steroids – and sometimes even strong chemotherapy – is for life.