Lupus (its full medical name is Systemic lupus erythematosus) (SLE) is a mysterious illness. Although various aspects of it were described as far back as the 1840s and it was recognized as a systemic disease well over a century ago, the cause is still unknown and a cure still elusive.
Like AIDS, lupus involves the immune system. There the similarity ends. Lupus is not transmissible from one individual to another; in no case has contagion even been suspected. In the majority of patients it does not prove fatal and the illness is essentially the opposite of AIDS.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, which causes inflammation of various parts of the body, especially the skin, joints and kidneys. It may also affect the blood. The immune system normally protects the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign invaders. In an autoimmune disease like lupus, the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissues. The immune system then makes antibodies directed against the body itself.
When lupus first sets in, symptoms such as fatigue and pain are often non-specific. They can be signs of so many other health problems, which can make diagnosis hard. The most common complaint people have is fatigue that is so severe it stops them from being able to function normally. This fatigue is often related to fibromyalgia. Fever, muscle and joint pain are also quite common.
Sometimes people with lupus experience a “flare.” This occurs when some symptoms appear or get worse for short periods then disappear or get better. Even if you take medicine for lupus, you may find that there are times when the symptoms become worse. Learning to recognize that a flare is coming can help you take steps to cope with it. Many people feel very tired or have pain, a rash, a fever, stomach discomfort, headache, or dizziness just before a flare.
It’s estimated that more than 16,000 Americans develop lupus each year. More than 90 percent of people with lupus are women between the ages of 15 and 45.
In the United States, lupus is more common among African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans than Caucasians.