In 2015, Selena Gomez announced that she has lupus, and talked openly about her struggles with the condition. Roughly 5 million people worldwide could relate to her story, while others were left questioning exactly what lupus is. People who have no experience with lupus generally know very little about the dangerous autoimmune disorder, or what they do know could be filled with misinformation. In honor of May being Lupus Awareness Month, we want to bring more awareness to this complex disease and give you some facts about it that you might not be aware of.
1. Lupus is an autoimmune disease.
Your body’s immune system protects your body from disease and infection by creating antibodies against any virus or threat to the body. With an autoimmune disease, such as lupus, your body mistakes your healthy cells for foreign cells and begins attacking them. It is a chronic autoimmune disease, meaning that it is long-lasting, and can last for months, years, or even for life. On its own, lupus is not life threatening, but if not dealt with, it can become life-threatening. Lupus patients are at higher risk for other illnesses such as renal disease, heart attack, stroke, and more.
2. There are 4 types.
Similar to diabetes, there are different types of Lupus:
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus– the most common type of lupus, accounting for 70% of all cases. It affects joints and organs.
- Lupus Discoid– affects the skin and causes rashes/lesions on the face, neck, and scalp. The lesions have a scaly or crusty appearance and can cause hair loss if they occur on the scalp.
- Drug-induced Lupus– develops after a reaction to a medication. Symptoms are similar to systemic lupus, but the symptoms disappear after the course of medication is completed.
- Neonatal Lupus– this is very rare, but it affects newborns whose mother has lupus.
3. Younger women are at higher risk.
90% of lupus patients are women. This doesn’t mean that men don’t get lupus, but women are 9 times more likely to be diagnosed with the disease than men are. It is thought that women are more prone to developing the disease because of hormones. Lupus also seems to affect younger women more: “Patients with lupus tend to develop the disease between the ages of 15 to 49,” says Irene Blanco, MD, MS, an associate professor of clinical medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and a rheumatologist at Montefiore Health System.
4. Race plays a role.
Women of color are diagnosed with lupus 2 to 3 times more often than are Caucasian women. Lupus is most common in African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American women. According to The National Institutes of Health, African American women are 3 times more likely than Caucasian women to develop lupus. Asian women suffer worse from the disease than Caucasian women: most Asian patients have a survival rate of only 79% to 92%, compared to the 94% to 96% survival rate of Caucasian women.
5. Lupus is not contagious.
You cannot “catch” lupus from another person, it is something triggered by an individual’s auto-immune system.
6. Lupus can be hard to diagnose.
According to the Lupus Foundation, it takes people an average of 6 years from the onset of symptoms to get their lupus diagnosis. During the 6 years, 55% of patients end up seeing 4 or more doctors to get a diagnosis. This might be because there are 11 common symptoms of lupus, and so many different symptoms can make it harder for doctors to diagnose the disease. In addition, some symptoms mimic those of other diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis or fibromyalgia, so doctors might mistake it for one of those conditions, and not suspect lupus. The disease is also very individualized, meaning you might experience all of the symptoms, some of them, or even just one.
Common symptoms include:
- Butterfly rash on the cheeks and nose
- Scaly rash on the face, neck, ears, scalp, or chest
- Sensitivity to light
- Ulcers or sores inside the mouth, on the tongue, and inside the nose
- Arthritis in 2 or more joints
- Chest pain when breathing or moving
- Kidney problems or too much protein in your urine
- Neurological problems such as seizures or other nerve problems
- Low white blood cell count
- Malfunctioning immune system
- Antinuclear antibodies in a blood test called an ANA
7. There is no known cause or cure.
Lupus is mysterious and complex. There is no known cause for what triggers the symptoms. And because of its complexity, there is unfortunately no known cure. There are treatment options that can help people manage the disease, but no cure as of now.
8. Treatment depends on the symptoms.
If someone with lupus experiences non-life-threatening symptoms such as joint pain or skin rashes, they will be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs. However, those with more dangerous and serious symptoms will need a more aggressive treatment, which includes immunosuppressive drugs or corticosteroids. Medical treatment allows 80% of lupus patients to live for more than 15 years after diagnosis.Although there is no known cause or cure for lupus, researchers are continuing to work hard to predict who is likely to develop lupus, what organs will be targeted and how to prevent flare-ups with blood tests. They are also looking into immune therapies and medications that might help prevent the disease in high-risk populations. We have come a long way with research; 50 years ago, the survival rate was only 50% at 4 years after a lupus diagnosis. Today, those diagnosed have a 97% survival rate at 5 years and 90% at 10.
If you are experiencing multiple symptoms from the list above, speak with your doctor and get tested. If you are worried that your health insurance will not cover tests, or ongoing treatments for lupus, EZ can help you find a better plan that is affordable and has the right coverage for your needs. To get free instant quotes, simply enter your zip code in the bar above, or to speak to a licensed agent in your area, call 888-350-1890.