In response to media interest in rumors surrounding the cause of death for Anna Nicole Smith being attributed to lupus, the Lupus Foundation of America is releasing a basic fact sheet about the disease.
What is lupus?Lupus is a serious and life-threatening chronic (lifelong) autoimmune disease that for unknown reasons causes the immune system to go into hyper-drive and attack the body’s own tissue and organs, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood and/or blood vessels.What are the symptoms of lupus?
- Symptoms of lupus often mimic other less serious illnesses and sometimes are dismissed.
- The most common symptoms of lupus are severe joint pain and swelling, extreme fatigue or exhaustion, fevers, skin rashes (especially in the shape of a butterfly across the cheeks and nose), pains in the chest on deep breathing (pleurisy), anemia, kidney involvement, photosensitivity (sunlight / UV light), hair loss, abnormal blood clotting, seizures, and ulcers in the nose and mouth.
- Lupus fluctuates between periods of increased disease activity (called flares) and periods of decreased disease activity (called remission), where symptoms may not be noticeable.Who gets lupus?
- Based on the results of several nationwide surveys, the Lupus Foundation of America estimates that approximately 1.5 million to 2 million Americans have a form of lupus.
- Ninety percent of people with lupus are female. Approximately 80 percent of new cases develop among women of childbearing age (15 – 44).What causes lupus?
- The exact cause(s) of lupus is not fully understood. — Lupus is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
- Researchers have not identified a specific gene(s) believed to be responsible for making a person predisposed to lupus.
- Some of the factors that may trigger lupus include infections, antibiotics, ultraviolet light / sunlight, extreme stress, certain drugs, and hormones.
- Hormonal factors may explain why lupus occurs more frequently in females than in males.How is lupus diagnosed?
- Because many lupus symptoms mimic other illnesses, are sometimes vague, and may come and go, lupus can be difficult to diagnose.
- Currently, there is no single laboratory test that can determine whether a person has lupus or not.
- It may take months or even years for doctors to piece together evolving symptoms and accurately diagnose lupus. A survey of LFA members found that more than half suffered symptoms four or more years and visited three or more doctors before being diagnosed with lupus.
- Diagnosis is usually made by a careful review of a person’s entire medical history, physical examination, coupled with an analysis of the results obtained in routine laboratory tests and some specialized tests related to immune status.How is lupus treated?Medications are often prescribed for people with lupus, depending on which organs are involved, and the severity of involvement.
- Commonly prescribed medications include:
- non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- immunosuppressive drugs (such as chemotherapy)
There has not been a new medication approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration specifically for lupus in more than 40 years.Hope is on the horizon, however, as there now are more than two dozen biotech and pharmaceutical companies in various stages of developing and testing potential new, safe and effective therapies for lupus.(Source: Lupus Foundation of America : March 2007.)