Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. It is a complex disease characterized by inflammation and many other symptoms. In lupus, the body's immune system attacks its own healthy tissues and causes inflammation and swelling. It also damages other organs in the body.
People with lupus tend to experience varying symptoms. Some individuals may have severe symptoms, while others may only have mild ones. Lupus symptoms usually begin during early adulthood from teenage years up to 30s. Generally, most people with lupus experience flare-ups that are followed by periods of remission, which is why the early symptoms of the disease are often overlooked.
The early symptoms of lupus include the following:
- Digestive problems
- Skin rashes
- Hair loss
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Mood changes
- Low libido
- Painful joints and muscles
- Edema (swelling or fluid retention)
It is necessary to be aware of the common misconceptions about lupus and its key facts to help people understand the chronic condition better. Below is a list of the most common misconceptions about lupus and people living with the disease.
1. Lupus is a women’s disease.
Although women are 10-15 times more likely to get lupus, men can have lupus as well. Both men and women can experience the varying symptoms of the disease.
2. People with lupus tend to be lazy.
People with lupus can experience extreme fatigue and require more rest than those who do not have the disease. Fatigue is a sign that a flare may be occurring. Individuals with lupus may appear lazy because they easily get tired. But the truth is, a number of lupus patients describe their condition as having flu on a daily basis, which can be debilitating.
3. Exercise is harmful.
Mild to moderate exercises may be beneficial to people with lupus since light exercises can help ease joint stiffness and muscle aches. However, overexertion should be avoided.
4. You can't get pregnant if you have lupus.
All pregnant women with lupus are considered to have a high-risk pregnancy. However, less than 50 percent of pregnancies in women who have lupus develop complications. It is important to know that lupus does not lessen a woman’s chances of pregnancy.
However, the disease can complicate a pregnancy along with a higher risk of miscarriage, preterm birth, and preeclampsia. For this reason, pregnant women with lupus need special care and medical attention. Many women with lupus can conceive and deliver healthy babies with proper prenatal care. Thus, they should not be discouraged from having children.
5. A sure sign of lupus is the "butterfly rash".
A classic symptom of lupus is the "butterfly rash" or malar rash. However, it is not the only sign that could indicate lupus. Many people with lupus may not even develop a rash. The rash is even observed in some people who do not have lupus. The butterfly rash or malar is seen in only about 40 percent of people with lupus.
6. If no rash occurs, then sun exposure is okay.
Sun exposure can internally and externally harm individuals with lupus. Symptoms such as joint pain, fatigue, and organ problems (lungs, heart, or kidney) may occur in people with lupus when they are exposed to the sun. Although not all people with lupus have photosensitivity, many have it. For this reason, care should be taken to prevent UV light exposure.
7. Lupus is contagious.
Lupus is not a virus or bacteria that can be transmitted from one person to another by physical contact or by touching skin lesions. However, this autoimmune disease could be passed from the mother to her child, but with a different type of transmission.
8. Lupus is uncommon.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, around 1.5 million Americans have lupus. Almost 90 percent of lupus patients are women.
9. Young people rarely have lupus.
Usually, lupus is diagnosed during childbearing years from 15-44 years old.
10. A lupus diagnosis is deadly.
The symptoms of lupus can be treated and controlled with the help of medications. However, there is no cure for the disease. According to the Lupus Research Institute (LRI) 25 years ago, only 40 percent of patients with lupus were known to live for more than three years. However, due to scientific advances in health, many are expected to live a normal lifespan. If it is detected early, the aggressive treatment is given, then it may not cause death. However severe cases of lupus have been reported to cause kidney or heart failure. This can cause death.
11. Lupus can be easily diagnosed.
Lupus cannot be easily diagnosed by just doing a simple blood test. Most people might think that by just visiting the doctor once, the disease can be diagnosed and confirmed. However, a lupus diagnosis is not that simple since it is a complex disease.
The symptoms of lupus tend to overlap with the symptoms of other diseases, which is why this disease is known as one of the "great imitators". Lupus flare-ups are symptoms that come and go. The symptoms also keep changing with time. A complete set of laboratory tests is needed if the doctor suspects lupus. These tests involve antibody testing, sedimentation rate, kidney and liver functions, and a complete blood count.
Lupus is usually treated by rheumatologists, which are physicians who specialize in treating musculoskeletal and systemic autoimmune diseases. The disease may come all of a sudden or gradually develop over a period of time. The condition can be mild, severe, or life-threatening. Sometimes, the disease might go into remission.
12. Lupus is genetic.
Lupus can result from a combination of a person's genetics and environment. It seems like individuals who have an inherited predisposition for lupus have the potential to develop the disease when they are exposed to something in their environment that can trigger lupus. However, the exact cause of lupus, in most cases, is still unknown.
It is known that Native Americans, Africans, Native Hawaiians, and Asian ethnic groups are more at risk, which suggests a genetic link. There are some environmental factors, which can trigger the disease as well. However, these environmental factors are not yet fully understood by researchers.
13. Chemotherapy is only for cancer.
Chemotherapy can be used for the treatment of lupus, even though it is an autoimmune disease. Chemotherapy drugs suppress the immune system by stopping the immune cells from attacking the body's own healthy tissues.
14. Aspartame is the cause of lupus.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, there is no current evidence of an association with the artificial sweetener aspartame as a cause of lupus.
15. Lupus relapses are caused by oral contraceptives and oral replacement therapy.
There is no correlation found between oral contraceptives and lupus according to a study done at Johns Hopkins University. According to a study in 2002, hormone replacement therapy has no effect on the development of lupus or its flare.
16. Lupus only affects the joints.
Essentially, every part of the body, skin, organs, and joints can be affected by lupus. However, some might have kidney failure due to kidney inflammation. Symptoms include elevated protein levels in the urine, increased creatinine levels in the blood, swelling of the feet and lower legs, and high blood pressure. Also, people diagnosed with lupus have increased chances of cardiovascular diseases.
17. Lupus is an easily understood disease.
Majority of people are completely unaware and extremely ignorant about the disease. Some people feel that lupus is contagious which is not true. Some people feel that only older people can get affected by lupus. Whereas the common age group that is actually affected by the disease is in the range of 15 to 45 years. Of which ten percent are men and generally others are women.
18. There's no need for lupus medications if you don't have any symptoms.
Long-term medications are needed for lupus since it is a chronic illness. If the medications are abruptly stopped, it may cause relapses or flares. Even if the symptoms are not there, you still need to take your medications as prescribed. Talk with your doctor and be aware of the consequences of not properly taking lupus medications.