What is lupus? (overview)
Systemic Lupus Erythematosis (SLE), also known by its shortened name, Lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disease which causes inflammation throughout the body. An autoimmune disease is characterised by the body’s own immune system as the primary source of inflammation, as well as the breakdown of its own cells. Basically, the body’s immune system mistakes its own tissues for foreign ‘invaders’ and ‘attacks’ them.
Inflammation can affect various tissues and organs in the body including joints, skin, lungs, brain, heart, bloodstream and kidneys. In some cases, this can lead to permanent damage in one or more areas of the body.
Lupus is often difficult to diagnose as the most common symptoms generally mimic those of other ailments and conditions. One symptom, however, which is a distinctive sign of lupus is a facial rash resembling the wings of a butterfly across the bridge of the nose and both cheeks. This rash does not, however appear in all cases of lupus.
Some individuals appear to be naturally more prone (born with a tendency) to developing lupus that is triggered by infections, medications, and even sunlight.
SLE affects the skin and vital internal organs. SLE incorporates systemic rash, SCLE and other skin manifestations. The raised, scaly, butterfly rash (or malar rash) across the bridge of the nose and cheeks is typically seen with this condition, as with other parts of the skin too. Rashes can leave scars if left untreated.
Inflamed or damaged connective tissue in the joints, muscles and skin, as well as the membranes surrounding or within the lungs, kidneys, heart and brain is also commonly seen with SLE. Extensive damage can lead to kidney disease, depression and confusion, seizures and strokes.
SLE also affects the blood vessels in the body, which may come ‘under attack’. This can result in sores and lesions developing on the skin, particularly on the fingers. Another condition which typically develops because of this is Raynaud’s syndrome (disease) where small blood vessels contract in the skin, preventing blood from circulating properly to the hands and feet. This often occurs in response to cold. Those experiencing this should keep their hands and feet warm throughout the colder months of the year (in particular). Most of these ‘attacks’ last a few minutes, but are known to be painful at times, turning the hands and feet a white or bluish colour.
Typically, lupus affects African, Asian or Native American ethnic groups more so than white (Caucasian) people (2 to 3 times as often). Nine out of ten people diagnosed with lupus are women. A diagnosis in both males and females is also often made between the ages of 15 and 44. Lupus can, however, be diagnosed in older individuals too.
Lupus can be severe, and for some, is potentially life-threatening. Some may suffer life-long disabilities due to the disease. Many, however, experience a milder form of it. In all cases, lupus is currently an incurable disease and can only be treated and managed with the help of a medical professional.