‘Disease of 1,000 faces’: Understanding lupus

It has been described as a disease of 1,000 faces, affecting
some 5 million people worldwide. 

TV personality Kris Aquino recently made the news when she
admitted she is fighting a “form of lupus” that makes her
allergic to “everything in the environment” including trees and
high temperatures. 

Her admission, which came amid a legal battle against former
business partner Nicko Falcis, follows her earlier revelation
that she was diagnosed with chronic spontaneous urticaria and
was just “one fatal allergic reaction from anaphylactic shock.”

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is a
chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body
including the skin, joints, and/or organs. “Chronic” means that
the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and
often for many years.

Rheumatologist Sandra Navarra said lupus means something is
wrong with a person’s immune system.

A person with lupus has a hyperactive immune system “but it is
a useless hyperactivity that needs to be suppressed,” Navarra
told radio DZMM. Suppressing this hyperactivity, however, is a
double-edged sword since the body loses the usual immune
response to viruses, bacteria and foreign antigens. 

“Sa lupus, ang nangyayari kasi diyan, ang nilalabanan ng sarili
mong immune system ay iyong sariling katawan. Para kang
nagkakaroon ng kudeta sa katawan mo,” she said in a “Good
Vibes” interview. 

Some of the common triggers for lupus symptoms include
ultraviolet rays from the sun or fluorescent lights, certain
antibiotic drugs and stress. Symptoms of lupus may include
fatigue, painful or swollen joints, swelling in the hands,
feet, or around the eyes, headaches, low-grade fever,
sensitivity to sunlight or fluorescent light, hair loss, anemia
and others. 

Dr. Geraldine Zamora-Racaza, an expert on internal medicine,
noted lupus is not easy to diagnose since some of its symptoms
are common with other illnesses. It took Diwa party-list Rep.
Emmeline Aglipay-Villar 6 years before she discovered that she
had lupus. 

Zamora-Racaza said lupus is also “multi-factorial”, meaning
there is not one common trigger for lupus symptoms. “If your
mother had lupus, there is a chance that you might get it but
it’s not automatic,” she said. 

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is not
contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot “catch”
lupus from someone or “give” lupus to someone. Lupus can range
from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a
doctor. 

During the first phase of treatment, people of lupus are given
anti-immunosuppressive drugs to combat inflammation. Navarra
said doctors give individualized therapy to lupus patients to
prevent complications arising from the treatment as a result of
suppressing the immune system. 

“The treatment is very individualized because some patients may
flare up while taking the drugs while others are okay,” she
said. 

For those diagnosed with lupus, Navarra recommends a healthy
diet of fish, fruit and vegetables. Salty foods are a
no-no. 

She also urges lupus patients to avoid sunlight as ultraviolet
rays may induce flare-ups of the illness. 

Aquino earlier said chronic spontaneous urticaria, her disease,
“affects less than 1% of the world’s population,” and it can
last between one to five years, or decades.

Aquino’s case falls under the latter category, she said.

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