Did you know that pregnancy is no longer considered an impossibility for women with lupus? May is Lupus Awareness Month.
A recent study confirmed that pregnancy is safe for most women with stable lupus. Advances in technology and better understanding of the disease have improved pregnancy outcomes during the last few decades. Ongoing research in lupus diagnosis and treatment is making a difference in the lives of women affected by the disease, not just medically, but in their overall quality of life.
However, lack of awareness can still be deadly. In fact, the majority of Americans (80 percent) know little to nothing about Lupus in general, according to a new study by the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA). Without knowing what to look for, many women dismiss early warning signs of lupus, potentially leading to life-threatening complications such as damage to their skin, lungs, liver, and kidneys. Early diagnosis is key to preventing long-term consequences of the disease.
What is lupus?
Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body). Normally our immune system produces antibodies that protect the body from foreign invaders. Autoimmune means your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.
- Lupus is a disease of flares (the symptoms worsen and you feel ill) and remissions (the symptoms improve and you feel better). Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a doctor. With good medical care, most people with lupus can lead a full life.
- Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age (15-44). However, men, children, and teenagers develop lupus, too.
- Lupus is not contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot “catch” lupus from someone or “give” lupus to someone.
- Lupus is not like or related to cancer. Cancer is a condition of malignant, abnormal tissues that grow rapidly and spread into surrounding tissues. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, as described above.
- Lupus is not like or related to HIV (Human Immune Deficiency Virus) or AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). In HIV or AIDS the immune system is underactive; in lupus, the immune system is overactive.
- Our research estimates that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus. The actual number may be higher; however, there have been no large-scale studies to show the actual number of people in the U.S. living with lupus.
- It is believed that 5 million people throughout the world have a form of lupus.
- Women of color are 2-3 times more likely to develop lupus.
- People of all races and ethnic groups can develop lupus.
- More than 16,000 new cases of lupus are reported annually across the country.
If you have at least four of the criteria on the list, either at the present time or at some time in the past, there is a strong chance that you have lupus.
- Malar rash – a rash over the cheeks and nose, often in the shape of a butterfly
- Discoid rash – a rash that appears as red, raised, disk-shaped patches
- Photosensitivity – a reaction to sun or light that causes a skin rash to appear or get worse
- Oral ulcers – sores appearing in the mouth
- Arthritis – joint pain and swelling of two or more joints in which the bones around the joints do not become destroyed
- Serositis – inflammation of the lining around the lungs (pleuritis) or inflammation of the lining around the heart that causes chest pain which is worse with deep breathing (pericarditis)
- Kidney disorder – persistent protein or cellular casts in the urine
- Neurological disorder – seizures or psychosis
- Blood disorder – anemia (low red blood cell count), leukopenia (low white blood cell count), lymphopenia (low level of specific white blood cells), or thrombocytopenia (low platelet count)
- Immunologic disorder – abnormal anti-double-stranded DNA or anti-Sm, positive antiphospholipid antibodies
- Abnormal antinuclear antibody (ANA)
People with lupus also may experience symptoms that do not appear among the ACR criteria:
- fever (over 100