Lupus is a disease that affects the immune system. It can damage any part of the body (skin, joints and/or organs inside the body). We can think of the immune system as an army within the body with hundreds of defenders (known as antibodies). They defend the body from attack by germs and viruses. In lupus, however, the immune system becomes overactive and creates antibodies that attack healthy tissues in the body, such as: the skin, kidneys, lungs, heart and brain. This attack induces inflammation, causing redness, pain, and swelling.
The number of people with lupus in the United States has been estimated to be as many as 1.5 million or more. Anyone can develop lupus, including children, but certain people are more likely to develop the disease. Nine out of ten people who have lupus are women, and the disease usually strikes during the childbearing years. Lupus is three times more common in African-American women than in Caucasian women and is also more prevalent in women of Latino, Asian, and Native American descent. Lupus is not contagious.
More people have lupus than AIDS, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, sickle-cell anemia and cystic fibrosis combined. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that between 1,500,000 and 2,000,000 people have been diagnosed with lupus. For most people lupus is a mild disease. For others, it may cause serious and even life-threatening problems.
What Are the Warning Signs of Lupus and How Is it Diagnosed?
Unfortunately, the warning signs of lupus can mimic the warning signs of other diseases. Common symptoms include persistent low-grade fever, skin rash, extreme fatigue, unusual hair loss, and painful or swollen joints. No single test can be used to diagnose lupus, and it may take several months or years after symptoms first appear for doctors to make a definitive diagnosis. There are blood tests that a doctor can use to help diagnose lupus, but none of these tests are definitive. We've partnered with the Lupus Foundation of Greater Washington to bring you information about this disease that affects all too many.