Lupus: When your body attacks itself

May 10 was World Lupus Day. In fact, May is dedicated to raising Lupus Awareness. Understandably so, because the chronic, autoimmune disease–that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or organs inside the body)–is highly misunderstood. Specifically, what it is; what triggers it or what aggravates it.

To begin with, Lupus occurs when something goes wrong with the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs also called the immune system.

This system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from the viruses, bacteria, and germs.

Autoimmune, therefore, means the immune system cannot differentiate between foreign invaders and the body’s healthy tissues (“auto” means “self”) and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body.

A Kenyan Lupus Awareness entity, She Blossoms, shares that correct diagnosis of the disease is difficult and as a result, most patients living with Lupus are misdiagnosed. This is an added challenge to the chronic pain and fatigue that marks the daily lives of people living with Lupus. That is not all, these patients–like one of my friend on Facebook (we were also in the same University) Kanja Mwingirwa–highlights her experiences living with Lupus, the struggle with lack of information (both them and their family and larger community) on the disease, the challenge of not getting timely and correct treatment and above all the stigma around it (such as assuming it is similar to HIV, or that people with Lupus have a short life expectancy among other misconceptions)

But, researchers and scientists are working around the clock to understand the auto-immune condition, hopefully, to find a cure and/or improve the quality of life of patients with Lupus. For instance, a recent Arthritis Care & Research study of 148 women with lupus, obesity was linked with worse disease activity, depressive symptoms, and symptoms of pain and fatigue. The association was consistent across different definitions of obesity.

The study’s findings highlight the need for lifestyle interventions in lupus patients who are overweight to help reduce health risks and the debilitating symptoms of the disease.

“In addition to reducing the risk of comorbid conditions such as cardiovascular disease, lifestyle interventions to improve body composition may reduce the severity of symptoms experienced by persons with lupus,” said senior author Dr. Patricia Katz, of the University of California, San Francisco.

Lead author Dr. Sarah Patterson noted that the findings have important clinical implications because the patient-reported outcomes measured, particularly pain and fatigue, are known to have profound effects on quality of life and remain a major area of unmet need for people with lupus.

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