Throughout the UK, it is estimated that between one and eight cases per 100,000 individuals of lupus are diagnosed each year, with an approximate 50,000 people currently living with the disease. Lupus is a complex and debilitating illness that can be a challenge to diagnose and subsequently treat, leading many medical organisations, non-profits, and individuals living with lupus to come together each year to raise awareness in the month of October. Those unfamiliar with the disease have an opportunity to participate in local events and social media campaigns to educate themselves and others about what lupus is, its symptoms, who’s at risk, and how to get a correct and timely diagnosis.
Understanding Lupus and Who’s at Risk
Lupus is defined as an autoimmune disease that has no singular cause. As a long-term health condition which can be life-threatening, lupus presents in a variety of forms that can affect the skin, the joints, and the internal organs. As with other autoimmune conditions, lupus allows the body to create antibodies that attack healthy tissues, instead of helping fight off infections as they are meant to do. Inflammation and long-term damage may take place when lupus is not properly diagnosed and controlled, leading individuals down a path of ongoing pain and discomfort.
Individuals diagnosed with lupus may have one of two main types of the disease. Discoid lupus erythematosus, or DLE, primarily affects the skin, recognised most often by lesions that tend to scar instead of healing over time. Direct exposure to sunlight may worsen the condition of the skin with those who live with DLE. Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, affects not only the skin but the internal organs as well. Rashes may also occur in SLE patients, but the damage caused to the connective tissues of the body between the muscles and joints are often more severe. SLE may also lead to kidney disease, stroke, and seizures in the most complex cases.
Lupus in either form can be difficult to pinpoint because symptoms vary from individual to individual. The most common warning signs of lupus include intense fatigue, severe joint pain and muscle aches, and skin rashes on the face or body. Individuals may also experience a drop in weight, chest pain, sores in the nose, throat, or mouth, or poor circulation in the fingers and toes. For some patients with lupus, hair loss and bald patches may also occur over time, along with sensitivity to sunlight.
Anyone may be diagnosed with lupus, but there are factors that increase the probability. Being a woman of child-bearing age, being black, and having a family history of lupus all boost the chances of having lupus as an adult. Chemical exposure to certain toxins like trichloroethylene in well water, smoking, and some medications also increase the potential of being diagnosed with lupus.
The Dangers of Misdiagnosis
The need for increased awareness of the autoimmune disease comes from the reality that lupus is one of the most common misdiagnosed conditions among adults throughout the world. Because symptoms are often similar to those of other illnesses, getting an accurate diagnosis is not as simple as one may assume. A specialist from a medical negligence legal team shares that they handle several cases related to lupus each year, mainly due to the prevalence of misdiagnosis. Conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, Lyme disease, and fibromyalgia all carry similar symptoms that lead to an incorrect diagnosis from the start. Without understanding which illness is plaguing a patient, medical professionals have a difficult time suggesting the right course of treatment to help ease symptoms. There is no cure for lupus at this time, but an early diagnosis can help thwart discomfort and a plan for reducing the severity of the disease over time.
Getting the Right Help
Raising awareness for lupus is important for adults and families throughout the world so that appropriate resources are made available in their time of need. First, if a loved one has one or more symptoms of lupus but has yet to see a doctor, an appointment should be made sooner rather than later. Many health organisations suggest scheduling a consultation with a GP so that further testing can be done in a timely fashion. Without information as to why symptoms may be occurring, there is no chance of receiving ongoing care for lupus and its complications.
Additionally, those who have been diagnosed with lupus have ample resources at their fingertips. Organisations worldwide have compiled vast libraries of articles about the different types of lupus, the risk factors that increase one’s potential to have lupus, and treatment plans that can be discussed with one’s doctor to help ease the discomfort associated with symptoms of the condition. Getting connected to these resources beneficial to the long-term well-being of individuals living with lupus and their family members.