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May is Lupus Awareness Month. What is it, and Who is at Risk?

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It is the disease that has earned the mysterious nickname of The Disease of 1,000 Faces.

Lupus is an inflammatory disease in which the immune system attacks its tissues and often causes painful joint pain. It impacts 1.5 million Americans and at least five million people around the world. Every May, we recognize Lupus Awareness Month as a time to generate awareness and raise critical funds for life-saving research and support services. What is this currently incurable disease, and who is at risk? Read on to learn more.

What is Lupus?

One reason why Lupus Awareness Month is so critical is that many aspects of the disease—including its spectrum of symptom severity—remain a mystery to doctors and researchers. The condition is often challenging to diagnose, painful to live with, and hard to treat. It creates a broad array of symptoms and can appear with little warning.

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. It causes pain and inflammation throughout the body in which the immune system attacks healthy tissues in the:

  • Joints
  • Internal organs, including heart and kidneys
  • Skin

Lupus is a disease of cycles, which means that when it is in remission, a person may exhibit no symptoms. When the condition is active, however, patients experience a flare-up of symptoms.

While no one knows what causes the disease, researchers have found that the condition is genetic. Some experts also believe that Lupus may be triggered in response to specific hormones, particularly estrogen, or to environmental factors.

There are four types of Lupus:

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – The most common form of Lupus, this version can be mild or severe.
  • Cutaneous Lupus – Limited to the skin, this version can cause rashes and lesions on the face, neck, and scalp. The skin of the inflamed areas can become thick, scaly, or suffer scarring.
  • Drug-Induced Lupus Erythematosus – A lupus-like disease caused by certain prescription drugs. It affects about ten percent of Lupus patients. Some drug categories that may cause this form of Lupus include those used to treat seizures, high blood pressure, as well as thyroid medications, oral contraceptives, antibiotics, and antifungals.
  • Neonatal Lupus – While not a true form of Lupus, this rare condition affects infants of about one percent of women who have Lupus and is caused by antibodies from the mother acting upon the infant while in utero.

What are the Symptoms of Lupus?

Lupus is a painful condition with symptoms that can range from mild to severe. Some of the most common symptoms of Lupus include swelling, inflammation, and damage to skin, heart, lungs, blood, kidneys, and skin.

Who is at Risk of Developing Lupus?

While anyone can develop Lupus during their lifetime, the disease most commonly affects:

  • Women between the ages of 15 and 44
  • African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American, or Pacific Islander individuals
  • People with a family member who has been diagnosed with Lupus or another autoimmune disease

If you are experiencing symptoms of swelling and pain, and believe that it may be caused by Lupus, talk to your doctor. He or she will diagnose your symptoms and will help you create a treatment plan to help you manage your pain and discomfort.