EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“My daughter has just been diagnosed with Lupus. What is this?"

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, or Lupus) is one of a group of conditions known as autoimmune disorders. Your body has an immune system, and this is present to help fight off infections. The immune system usually does this by producing antibodies that attack the infection causing organism and destroy them. The immune system is able to not attack your own body by being able to recognise ‘self’ from ‘non-self’. However, in autoimmune disorders, this ability to distinguish between ‘self’ from ‘non-self’ is lost, and the immune system attacks parts of the body.

There are many different sorts of autoimmune condition. These vary for being very specific, affecting just one part of the body, such as the thyroid or the adrenal glands. These are often referred to as ‘organ specific’. In some people, however, the condition is very widespread, affecting different parts of the body. Lupus is one such ‘non-organ specific autoimmune condition’.

Lupus affects people from all over the world, with people of African origin being particularly at risk. Females are almost 9 times more likely than males to be affected, with the symptoms usually starting after puberty. As with other autoimmune conditions, these disorders often run in families. If one member of the family has one disorder, another may have a different autoimmune condition. This is why it is important to let your GP known what conditions run in the family. In addition, certain drugs may precipitate Lupus and so it is important to let your doctor know what you take – even if it is from the chemist, over the internet or from abroad.

Lupus can present with generally feeling achy and feverish. Transient joint pains can occur and a rash may appear – most often on the face. This rash and the symptoms may get worse in the sunlight. Occasionally hair loss may also occur.

Because of the ‘non-organ specific’ nature of lupus, it can affects different parts of the body to different degrees. It is important to have regular check ups because the condition can flare up. In the past, it was felt that pregnancy should be avoided, but this is no longer the case

Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Often is it simple anti-inflammatory drugs that are needed, but occasionally more powerful drugs are needed to keep the immune system under control. 

It may be necessary to do several tests to determine the severity of the condition but due to advances in modern medicine, the outlook for people with Lupus has improved greatly.

For more information about Lupus click these links: