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What is Lupus

Lupus is a systemic autoimmune disease: your immune system, which normally fights against viruses or germs to keep you healthy, no longer differentiates those legitimate targets from your body’s healthy tissues, and attacks the healthy organs. This creates inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body: skin, joints, kidneys, heart, ... Any organ can be affected, which is the meaning of systemic.

Lupus is a chronic disease: it is not like a flu that heals up in a couple of days or weeks, but once you have lupus, it will be there lifelong somehow. There is currently no definitive cure for lupus: you cannot fully eliminate it, but its effects can be actively managed down. This requires expert knowledge as there is no one standard therapy that will work for all symptoms. Over time, people with lupus will experience flares (symptoms worsening, flu, pain, increasing fatigue, ...) followed by remissions (symptoms reduce, and you might even think you are cured).

Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age (15-44). However, men, children, and teenagers develop lupus too. African women are much more likely to develop lupus than Caucasians. Lupus is recognized as a rare disease in many countries. In Europe, the predominance rate is estimated around 1 in 1.500 people.

Lupus symptoms are extremely variable from one person to another. Some will have a form that only focuses on skin, others will see their kidneys, joints, neurologic system, or any other part of their body affected. This makes lupus detection or treatment often very difficult. Many patients will only be diagnosed after years. Several forms of lupus can be life threatening if they are not appropriately treated, but with expert medical care, most people with lupus will see a life expectancy equal to other people.

Lupus is not contagious: there are no bacteria or virus that transmit it. You cannot catch it from anyone. Studies show that multiple genes are involved that make you potentially subject to lupus, but even having all those genes, many will not have lupus. Some factors are known to increase the risk of flares. They include exposure to sun light, pregnancy, stress.

Lupus treatment often has to rely on multiple drugs, combined with care to limit their side effects, which otherwise could be even more damaging than the disease itself. Cortisone, anti-malaric agents, immuno-suppressants will often form the base of the treatment, and a few more pills may be needed to deal with the side effects from the treatments.

Living with lupus has a significant impact on the lives of patients and their families. Because flares are unpredictable and may appear suddenly, some level of uncertainty becomes part of every day life: you never know what tomorrow will bring. Economically, living with lupus makes access to owning a house more complex (insurance companies reject applications, banks refuse loans), or create a barrier to employment (like most chronic diseases).

Lupus and children

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