More than 5 million people around the globe, including approximately 1.5 million people in the United States, struggle with lupus.  However, 2/3 of our population knows little to nothing about this debilitating disease.  Ironically, lupus is more prevalent than leukemia, MS, muscular dystrophy, and cystic fibrosis, which people know much more about.  May is Lupus Awareness Month and on May 10th, we observe the 14th annual World Lupus Day.

Lupus Explained

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where a body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs.  Any part of the body can be affected, including the skin, heart, kidneys, lungs, and brain.  Dr. Saira Sheikh directs the UNC Rheumatology Lupus Clinic.  In a UNC School of Medicine podcast, she explains the etymology of this disease’s name.  “The word lupus is Latin for wolf.  In the 18th century, when lupus was starting to be recognized as a disease, it was thought to be caused by the bite of a wolf.  This may have been because of the distinctive facial rash characteristics of lupus that can often leave a bite-like imprint.”  While this disease hits men and women of all ages and races, lupus usually affects women of childbearing age, and women of color are two to three times more likely to develop the disease than Caucasians.

Potential Causes

Lupus is not contagious, and medical professionals are not sure exactly what causes the disease, but certain factors increase the likelihood of someone developing the disease.

  • Genetics
  • Environment
  • Hormones and illness
  • Medications
  • Combination of different factors

An Invisible Illness

The physical symptoms of this autoimmune disease vary greatly, and can include pain, extreme fatigue, cognitive issues, hair loss, and physical impairments.  People with lupus often suffer from strokes, cardiovascular disease, and painful joints.  One type of lupus, which only affects the skin, can cause disfiguring rashes.  Musician Seal, known for his chart topping hit “Kiss from a Rose” suffered from discoid lupus as a child, which gave him his trademark scars.  However, most of the time a person who suffers this disease can appear “normal” to an outsider.  They may have months where they feel healthy, while a flare up can lead to immediate bed rest.

Actress and singer Selena Gomez, who announced to the world in 2015 that she was battling lupus, soon realized that the physical toll of the disease was only part of the health problems she would face.  Gomez told People, “I’ve discovered that anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be side effects of lupus, which can present their own challenges.”  Grammy-winner Toni Braxton was diagnosed with lupus in 2008, and the disease has physically taken a toll on her heart.  When doctors pushed her to give up singing, Braxton became depressed, and admits “I was becoming dark.”

Finding a Cure and Raising Awareness

To help raise funds to find a cure, the Lupus Research Alliance holds walks across the country.  This year, the New York Jets are hosting the annual New Jersey Walk with Us to Cure Lupus.  They are holding this on Saturday, May 20, 2017 at MetLife Stadium.  This 5K will feature special appearances by Jets players and cheerleaders, entertainment, and refreshments.  For people who are unable to go to the walk, you can bid on Jets items and experiences at www.nflauction.nfl.com during the month of May.  All donation proceeds for items listed in May will go directly to the Lupus Research Alliance.

The Lupus Foundation of America puts on their National Gala each year, which honors individuals who have dedicated time and money to this cause.  The National Gala raises funds to fight this disease without a cure.  In the past, the Foundation has honored Whoopi Goldberg, Ted Turner, Natalie Morales, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and many other individuals and companies.

Lupus Awareness Month is a great time to spread awareness and help end this debilitating disease.  Learn how you can make a difference at www.lupus.org/action.