Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect almost any part of the body. Autoimmune diseases in general cause a person’s antibodies to mistake healthy tissues for foreign invaders and attack and destroy this healthy tissue, causing inflammation, pain and damage. Since any part of the body is at risk with lupus, symptoms can vary widely, though the more common signs of lupus are pain or swelling in joints, muscle pain, fever, rashes, chest pain, fatigue, swollen glands or extremities. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million Americans are living with lupus, the majority of whom are women of color.
There is no known cure for lupus and treatment options will vary depending on the individual’s symptoms/which bodily systems are affected. A person may need to visit an array of specialists to find help and relief for each affected part of their body. In general, treatment plans aim to reduce symptoms during flare-ups, prevent future flare-ups and reduce internal tissue damage. Medications may be helpful for other related issues, such as high blood pressure or infection. Some people with lupus find other approaches such as exercising, getting enough rest, reducing stress and creating a solid support system to be helpful in managing and coping with their illness.
A person with lupus may cycle through periods of flare-ups and periods of remission. The disease can often be “mysterious,” as someone with lupus can never truly know how they will feel on any given day or what range of symptoms they will experience. It is unpredictable and often debilitating. An individual affected may look completely “fine” on the outside but be in absolute agony on the inside. Many describe the autoimmune disease as “being allergic to your own body” and are frustrated by the fact that there is really no “getting better” with lupus - there is only “getting by.”
Current research projects aim to better understand lupus so that scientists may improve and expand treatment methods. Several foundations exist to provide support and resources to people living with lupus.