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Friday, March 7, 2014
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a disease of the immune system, which involves many organs. Its most common symptoms and signs are skin rash, joint pains, and kidney disease. Many patients experience tiredness, have muscle aches, pains and weakness, fever, enlargement of lymph glands in the neck, hair loss, and sores in mouth. The skin rash typically involves the face, in the butterfly distribution (bridge of nose and malar area). Some patients also develop some brain, heart and lung problems. Some women with lupus have recurrent abortions. So, lupus can involve almost evey organ system in the body, but in different combinations - not all patients have all problems listed here. Some patients have skin, joint and kidney problems, others have fever, fluid around the lungs (pleuritis) or heart (pericarditis), etc.
The disease mostly affects women (90% women and 10% men); affects all races, but the disease seems to be more common and severe in women of African-American origin. It affects all age groups, but more commonly women of childbearing age.
The diagnosis of lupus is made by a combination of these symptoms and signs, and by certain blood tests (called antinuclear antibodies). Several different treatments are used for lupus, and generally are able to control the problems. However, because we still do not know the exact cause of this disease, we do not have `specific` treatments. Several Centers around the world are trying to understand how lupus is caused and how to treat it effectively. Doctors at the University of Cincinnati are doing some basic research in trying to understand the cause of this disease and develop novel treatments in mouse models of the disease.
Lupus is considerd to be an `Auto-immune" disease. That means the immune system in lupus patients starts working against the body`s own components. Normally, the immune system works against invading microbes and germs and gets rid of them. In that sense, I like to describe lupus as a "civil war in the body", where the body`s own soldiers attack its own constituents. Let me know if you have any further question about lupus.
Ram Raj Singh, MD
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati