Now that Selena Gomez announced that she has Lupus, people became much more curious about this illness. Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disease, meaning that your immune system attacks your own body cells and organs instead of only foreign organisms (such as viruses, bacteria, or cancer). Lupus affects up to 0.4% of the population, being most prevalent in women, especially of African American origin.
How does SLE manifest? Lupus mostly affects joints, skin, kidneys, lungs and the heart. The common presentation is a young woman comes to her doctor because of a characteristic face butterfly rash (that points to lupus right away!), pain in multiple joints, and general fatigue.
Lupus can range from mild to very severe (life-threatening!). Because it is an autoimmune disease, the main treatment consists of suppressing the immune system – by using immunosuppressant drugs. There are 2 components to the treatment: every patient with lupus is given long-term medication to depress the immune system, as well short-term stronger medication when flares occur. Flares are precipitated by many physical or psychological stressors: lack of sleep, anxiety/stress, illnesses such as the flu, inadequate diet, etc… and we use steroids (yes, steroids! not the testosterone that you inject yourself with to gain muscle, but corticosteroids – called prednisone/prednisolone) that mimic the immune system suppression ability that our body naturally has by making a similar component: cortisol. Some of the medications used to treat lupus are also used in cancer treatment (aka chemotherapy) but lupus doesn’t have much to do with cancer. These medications are used in much lower doses so the side-effects are not as severe as in cancer patients – mostly mild hair loss, some nausea & vomiting, fatigue. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aleeve, Advil, and Motrin can also be used on a regular basis.