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Lupus: The Elusive Wolf

Lupus is not cancer. It is not related to AIDS, and it is impossible to contract from another person. Lupus is an autoimmune disease. A healthy body’s immune system fights foreign substances, such as germs and viruses. However, in the person with lupus, the immune system cannot tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissues. It is as if the body is allergic to itself.

The Lupus Foundation of America (L.F.A.) estimates that two million Americans have a form of this disease. In the United States, lupus is more common in African Americans, Latinos, Asians, and Native Americans than in Caucasians. Studies suggest that more than 16,000 Americans develop lupus each year.

Types of Lupus

There are three main types of lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus (S.L.E.) is the most common form. Systemic implies that one or more organs may be involved. The symptoms range from mild to serious.

Discoid lupus erythematosus affects the skin. A red butterfly rash may appear across the nose and cheeks, or elsewhere on the body.

Drug-induced lupus is triggered by medicine. Symptoms are generally mild, and usually disappear when the medication is stopped. This type of lupus is  more common in men than women.

Symptoms of Lupus

The major symptom of lupus is inflammation. This can be characterized by pain, heat, redness, swelling and involvement of the skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys and brain. Every lupus sufferer reacts differently to the illness. One may endure joint pain in the knees and fingers, while another may fatigue easily or have kidney involvement. Some experience low-grade fever, swollen glands and sore throat.

This chronic illness is difficult to identify, and frequently mistaken for other diseases. It is often dubbed The Wolf because symptoms may appear with a vengeance one day, and disappear the next. Besides the indicators mentioned above, this elusive affliction also makes its presence known via chest pain, hair loss, numbness in fingers or toes from cold or stress, sun sensitivity, low blood count, depression, inability to concentrate, and memory problems. Other warning signs may be mouth sores, seizures, hallucinations, repeated miscarriages, and unexplained kidney problems.

What We Do Know

No one knows what causes lupus, and anyone may get it. Sometimes it runs in families, implying that the disease may be hereditary. More women than men are predisposed to the illness, suggesting it may be hormone-related. If you think you have it, tell a doctor your symptoms. He will perform a complete physical examination, and do laboratory testing of blood and urine. No single test can show that you have lupus. Therefore, it may take time to diagnose.

If you learn that you do suffer from this ailment, it is important to follow up with your health care team on a regular basis, even when the disease is quiet, and all seems well. There is no cure, but in most cases, lupus can be managed. For a large number of people, it is a mild disease affecting only a few organs. For others, it may cause serious and even life-threatening problems. Most people can expect to live a normal or near-normal life span.

Dealing with a chronic illness may present a real trial to you. Because you look healthy, it may seem like your family, friends, and coworkers do not believe that you are really sick. Whether yours is a mild or severe case, lupus is certainly a life-altering illness. The majority of people who suffer with it have limited energy. For some, depression might be a consequence. It can be disheartening to find you lack the stamina to play with your children, maintain a job, enjoy your home and perform the physical activities you previously enjoyed.

Listen to Your Body

There will be times when you will not want to do much. Lupus fatigue is not the regular tiredness that normal individuals have, but an overwhelming exhaustion that often keeps one from performing even minor physical activities. Learn to manage your good days wisely by balancing proper rest, moderate exercise, and good nutrition. Listen to your body, and learn to pace yourself. Reduce the stress in your life as much as possible. Set priorities, and stop before you’re exhausted. Remember that fatigue is part of the illness.

Even if you take medication for lupus, there may be times when the symptoms become worse, causing a flare. You may feel tired, experience joint pain, or some other discomfort just before the flare. If you recognize the signals, you may minimize or even prevent the flare by resting more.

When you feel better, become involved in social activities. Consider joining a lupus support group where you can share your feelings. You will see that you are not alone in your struggle. You will also have the opportunity to become better educated about the illness.

Optimistic Prognosis

The prognosis for people with lupus is more optimistic than it has ever been. Innovative research is constantly introducing new medications and treatments which, hopefully, will lead to a cure in the near future. While living with lupus can be a challenge, it is possible to enjoy a satisfying and productive life. Be kind to yourself, and allow caring people to love, nurture and encourage you. Remember that each day is a blessing, and small wins are important. Above all, maintain an optimistic attitude.

For further information and assistance in finding a local chapter or support group, contact the Lupus Foundation of America. They may also be reached by telephone at 800-558-0121 or 202-349-1155.

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About Diane E. Robertson

Diane E. Robertson

writes from Venice, Florida.

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