Lupus or SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus) is one of the auto-immune diseases where the body appears to attack itself because it doesn’t recognise the tissue it is attacking. Lupus, like other auto-immune conditions, is a chronic condition that affects the sufferer for some time. Symptoms of lupus are either confined to the skin, called discoid lupus, or affect the joints, as well as some internal organs.
For most people, lupus is mild condition that is relatively easy to control by avoiding triggers and stress, and by taking medication to treat the symptoms when the condition is having a flare-up. It is also important to enjoy the periods of remission.
In New Zealand, lupus is relatively common; women as well as Māori and Pacific people are more likely to develop lupus.
Lupus sufferers report feeling tired and having aching joints, particularly in the wrists, fingers and feet at the start of their illness. These vague symptoms persist while other conditions, such as skin rashes, occur in a pattern that indicates that lupus may be causing the symptoms.
Once diagnosed, lupus is usually treated with anti-inflammatory medicines. Often pain relieving medicines, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, are used, but occasionally severe lupus is managed with steroids and other disease-modifying medicines.
When you or one of your family or friends is diagnosed with lupus, it is important for them to realise what makes the condition worse, so that the triggers can be avoided in order to prevent or delay a relapse. Relaxation techniques, avoiding stress, and in particular sunlight, is helpful in managing this painful and distressing condition. Stopping smoking, as well as avoiding smoky environments, is also helpful in lessening the effects of lupus. If managed properly symptoms can disappear and these remissions can last for many months.
If lupus affects you or someone in your family then discuss your concerns with your community pharmacist. Your pharmacist can refer you to a doctor to get the condition diagnosed or excluded. They can also discuss treatments to help treat the symptoms, as well as provide advice on strategies to prevent or delay lupus flare-ups.