Lupus: Four Questions to Understand Everything About This Chronic Autoimmune Disease

On World Lupus Day, let’s take stock of this chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects women and can sometimes take a long time to diagnose.

The term “lupus” means wolf in Latin and denotes one of the characteristic signs of this disease: on the skin of the face, a kind of erythematous mask resembling a wolf’s head forms. It is often the first visible clinical manifestation of the disease mainly affects young women : nine women for one man, ages 15 and 44, according to data from the lupus reference center of the university hospital group Pitié Salpêtrière in Paris.

Rare, this disease is indeed rare as it affects about 30,000 people in France. If it mainly causes skin lesions, it can also affect the joints and internal organs such as the kidneys. Hence the importance of early detection, to offer a treatment that stabilizes this disease. But given these heterogeneous symptoms, the diagnostic wander may take several years.

Lupus, what is it?

Lupus is a autoimmune disease : This means that the immune defenses normally designed to fight only external elements such as bacteria or viruses turn ‘against’ and attack the body’s cells. The body then produces harmful defense molecules called autoantibodies that trigger significant inflammatory responses and lead to the self-destruction of certain tissues of the skin, joints, kidneys, etc. This is why the most common form of lupus is called “systemic” : The disease affects several organs.

How does the disease start?

“Several factors (environmental, hormonal, and genetic) likely play a role,” Orphanet said. In addition, “since lupus often affects women of childbearing age, there may be a link between lupus and female hormones.” It’s also likely that some people have genes that make them more likely to cause the disease. A viral infection, stress, or sun exposure “can cause, or rather “wake up” lupus through an as-yet unknown mechanism.”

How is lupus treated?

Lupus progresses in flare-ups: the disease is then active with various symptoms, then comes the remission phase which can last from a few weeks to several months. To date, there is no treatment that can cure lupus, but various combinations of drugs can stabilize the disease. These combinations depend on each patient’s symptoms and the evolution of lupus. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed to relieve pain, but are usually insufficient. Among the most commonly prescribed drugs, we can mention treatments based on corticosteroids, immunosuppressants or synthetic antimalarial drugs, such as hydroxychloroquine.

How do you live with lupus?

When lupus is diagnosed, medical supervision is applied to monitor the evolution of the disease and adjust treatments. It is advisable to stop smoking daily if you smoke, to protect yourself from the sun and to practice physical activity during the phases of remission. If you want a child, talk to your doctor: in case of lupus, the pregnancy must be planned. “It is recommended that it not start until after 6 to 12 months of lupus remission,” the Medicare site describes. Apart from periods of outbreaks, which are very difficult, and thanks to treatments, people with lupus can live almost normal lives.

To note : According to the Lupus Reference Center, the disease more commonly affects “certain ethnic subgroups, such as African Americans or Asians.”

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