Living With Lupus: When Your Body Is Its Own Worst Enemy
Houston (September 25, 2001) – It’s like a bad healthcare dream. You have vague symptoms that come and go – joint pain and swelling, rashes, a low-grade fever, sensitivity to light, maybe some pain when you take a deep breath. The symptoms occur together or by themselves, but sometimes you go months without a recurrence. Your family doctor can find nothing wrong, no viruses or bacterial infections. But, then you get transferred due to your job. You find a new doctor, and the frustration of being unable to find a cause of your symptoms starts all over.
This scenario is similar to one experienced by someone suffering from Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, better known as lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s immune system – for reasons that are still not completely clear – attacks other cells in the body, causing everything from mild skin rashes to severe kidney problems. For several reasons, lupus is often difficult to properly diagnose.
According to Michael Condit, M.D., a physician with Kelsey-Seybold Clinic’s main campus who is board certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology, lupus patients are all very different in their symptoms and complaints, and this makes lupus challenging to diagnose. “Some patients have mild symptoms that can be controlled with medications, and their lupus isn’t recognized for years. Some patients have a few severe symptoms, but it takes awhile to eliminate the possibilities that other diseases may be causing the symptoms.”
Also, symptoms aren’t always regular in their frequency and duration. “Not only is each patient different, but the symptoms in a particular patient can come and go, sometimes one at a time, and sometimes together. This makes finding patterns of symptoms very difficult,” explains Dr. Condit. “This is further complicated if someone changes doctors. Sometimes the symptom patterns are identified over several months or years, and a doctor who doesn’t know your history might not look for something chronic like lupus.”
On the research front, the whole study of immunology has opened up vast areas of possibilities. Research on diseases like AIDS, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis, along with more research on lupus itself, has led to much better treatments, and the possibility of big advances in the coming years. Dr. Condit is optimistic about the ongoing research. He explains, “The human genome project, and research with stem cells and biologic response modifiers (substances that stimulate the body’s response to infection and disease) all have huge potential to help with finding better treatments and maybe even a cure for lupus. All this research is getting us to the point where we can maximize efficacy and minimize toxicity. That is key to targeting specific diseases without destroying other healthy tissues along the way. However, our current lab research is far ahead of any clinical applications that may eventually be developed.”
But, according to Dr. Condit, the prognosis for lupus patients is better than ever. “In general the survival rate is much better. In the early 1950s, the 5-year to 10-year survival rates were under 50%. People usually succumbed to complications from lupus, like kidney dysfunction. But now, with immunosuppressants and other treatments for the serious symptoms, more than 90% of lupus patients have over a 10-year survival window,” remarks Dr. Condit. “Lupus is becoming one of those chronic diseases that people are learning to live with.”
For questions and concerns about lupus, contact your primary care physician or call Kelsey-Seybold Clinic at (713) 442-0427.