October is Lupus Awareness Month in the UK. The aim of the month is to raise awareness of the illness amongst the public and also within the medical profession.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a long-term auto-immune disease whereby the body’s natural immune system attacks health tissue. It is unpredictable, hard to live with and there is currently no cure. However, symptoms can be managed and improve if treatment is started early.
It affects both males and females, however research has shown that it is far more common in females. It is not clear what causes Lupus but it is a hormonal activity and change, and it can often be triggered after childbirth, at the menopause or during puberty. It usually affects individuals between the ages of 15 and 55 years.
Lupus can cause many symptoms which can affect each individual differently and this often causes a lot of confusion within the medical profession.
Symptoms of Lupus include:
- Joint and muscle pain;
- Extreme fatigue and weakness that lingers no matter how much you rest;
- Rashes from sunlight;
- Weight gain or loss;
- Flu like symptoms;
- Inflammation of the skin;
- Oral/nasal ulcers;
- Hair loss;
- Swollen glands; and
- Poor blood circulation.
Often individuals who have been diagnosed with Lupus experience a flare up of symptoms which become worse for a period of time before settling down. However, in some cases symptoms are constant.
Family doctors can fail to recognise a diagnosis of Lupus from the outset causing delays in diagnosis. Delays in diagnosis can occur because Lupus symptoms are also typical of other connective tissue diseases such as autoimmune thyroid disease, celiac disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Lupus can present in mild to severe form. In relation to mild symptoms, an individual may experience minor joint and skin problems and tiredness. However, if you have a severe form of Lupus, an individual may have inflammation which causes severe damage to major organs such as the heart, lung and kidney which can be life threatening, especially if there is a delay in diagnosis.
Lupus UK is the only national registered charity to support people with this disease and to assist those approaching diagnosis.
The charity has 6000 members and several regional groups which arrange discussions, public newsletters and organise fundraising activities.
The charity aims to provide individuals with information about Lupus and to offer support to individuals to ensure that their conditions are diagnosed and managed correctly.
Once diagnosed, many suffers adjust to the demands of Lupus to lessen the chance of flare ups. For example, they often offset fatigue by rest and pacing daily activities, they trust to resolve stress and avoid over-exposure to direct sunlight. More importantly, they often discuss and are open to family and friends about the unpredictable nature of Lupus and how they must “bear with them” if they are having a bad flare up.
It is vitally important for family doctors to be more clued up in relation to Lupus and to have knowledge of the symptoms, and how despite these overlapping with other conditions, Lupus should not be disregarded. It is so important for a quick and accurate diagnosis as this may prevent the onset of major damage.
Ultimately, we all need to be well-educated about Lupus to help those suffering to improve their quality of everyday life.
More information on Lupus Awareness Month and Lupus UK can be found on their website.