What do you know about lupus? Probably, like most people, very little. Lupus is a tremendously unknown disease, despite the fact that statistics show that around 40,000 Spaniards (approximately the order of 1 in every thousand inhabitants), mostly women of childbearing age, suffer from this disease. In recent years the disease has become more visible, thanks to its appearance in some chapters of the House series or the announcement by the singer Selena Gómez that lupus was the cause of the temporary suspension of her career a few years ago. However, it is still a very little-known disease. What Causes Lupus? Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease, in which the body's immune system produces antibodies that attack healthy cells and tissues, including the skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, heart, or brain. The cause is not yet clear, although there are studies that link it to environmental factors, such as stress, tobacco or exposure to sunlight, while other researchers believe it could be triggered by some type of microorganism, such as a virus. It also appears that pregnancy is a frequent trigger for the disease in women. Since the incidence is much higher in women, the researchers believe that female hormones, specifically estrogens, could play a role in the development of the disease. It also seems clear that there is some kind of genetic predisposition to contract the disease. Types of lupus and their symptoms There are many different forms of lupus. The most common is called Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), which accounts for around 70% of cases. In SLE, any part of the body can be affected, although in about 80% of cases the skin is affected. Symptoms of SLE include chest pain, shortness of breath, muscle pain, fatigue, fever, hair loss, photosensitivity, or anemia. A skin lesions on the face in the form of butterfly wings are usually one of the first symptoms in 30% of people affected by this type of lupus. Other types of lupus include cutaneous lupus erythematosus, which is limited to the skin, or drug-induced lupus erythematosus, which can appear after taking certain medications. In the case of the latter, the main organs of the body are rarely affected. In most cases, lupus develops in an explosive way, in which symptoms worsen for a certain period of time before improving or disappearing. One of the biggest problems with lupus stems from the complications that can arise during the disease, from headaches or memory problems, to kidney damage or cardiovascular disease. Lupus treatment can also weaken the immune system, making infections of all kinds more frequent. The diagnosis of lupus is also especially difficult, since its symptoms can often be confused with other diseases. Lupus treatment There is currently no cure for lupus, but there are treatments that help cope with the disease, reducing acute episodes, relieving symptoms, or reducing the risk of damage to the body. In general, the treatment depends on each individual, as well as the medications that the doctor prescribes. In the most acute cases, the use of immunosuppressive drugs or chemotherapy may be necessary. These treatments weaken the immune system to prevent organ damage. Current treatments are quite efficient, so that in patients in whom the organs are not affected, more than 80% of patients can lead a practically normal life. However, it is clear that much more research is needed to try to identify the causes of this disease and to find a cure. In case you have been diagnosed with lupus, you can contact associations such as the Spanish Lupus Federation, which bring together different associations of lupus sufferers and where they can find information and help to better understand their disease. On May 10, World Lupus Day is also celebrated, with the aim of focusing society's attention on this disease and on the affected people and their needs.
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