Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), or commonly known as lupus, is a chronic disease that mainly affects women, causing severe effects which can lead to death. Mainly targeting young and middle-aged women of colour, the lifelong threatening illness has been regarded as one of the many illnesses that requires attention globally.
What is lupus?
According to Sibongile Komati, the founder and Patron of the Lupus Foundation, lupus is an autoimmune disease. “The body’s immune system becomes hyperactive from antibodies that fail to difference between pathogens and healthy body organs,” she said. Komati said that lupus mainly affects more people of African, Asian, or Native American descent than people of European descent.
Types of lupus
There are many forms of lupus, but the most common ones, according to Komati, are neonatal lupus, which affects children; discoid lupus which generally affects the skin; and systemic lupus which attacks the immune system. “There is also drug induced lupus, which caused by the use of certain chronic medication,” she said.
Effects and symptoms
The disease usually affects individuals between the ages of 15 – 44, but can also affect individuals outside of this age group. According to Susan De Walt, a lupus awareness activist and the director of a faith organisation called Eagles Flight Ministries, butterfly rash over the face, skin rash, and arthritis in joints are some of the physical symptoms and effects of having lupus. “The disease may also inflame and/or damage the connective tissue in the joints, muscles, and skin, along with the membranes surrounding or within the lungs, heart, kidneys, and brain. SLE can also cause kidney disease. Brain involvement is rare, but for some, lupus can cause confusion, depression, seizures, and strokes,” De Walt said.
The chronic condition can also affect your blood vessels which can cause sores to develop on the skin, especially around your fingers. “Some lupus patients get Raynaud’s syndrome, which makes the small blood vessels in the skin contract, preventing blood from getting to the hands and feet, especially in response to cold. Most attacks last only a few minutes, can be painful, and often turn the hands and feet white or a bluish color. Lupus patients with Raynaud’s syndrome should keep their hands warm with gloves during cold weather,” she said.
Is it deadly or not?
Complications relating to lupus, like kidney failure or a heart attack can kill you. While there are clinics that are facilitated with the necessary resources to aid lupus patients, De Walt said that these facilities do not always have medication available. While there has not been any cure yet for lupus, chemotherapy and steroids are some of the ways to treat the illness.