Health & Fitness

Lupus, the disease that attacks its own

A doctor looks under a microscope. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s defence system produces antibodies that attack your own tissues causing inflammation as opposed to the immune system protecting the body from infections.

Statistics show the disease is nine times as common in women as in men and more prevalent in younger people. Only about one in 15 cases begin after the age of 50 and tend to be less severe. In rare cases, lupus can affect children before the age of five.

The causes are not directly known, however, doctors link it to genetics, environment, hormones and certain medicines. It is not directly passed on from a parent to their children, but if you have a close relative with lupus, you are at an increased risk of developing the condition. Similarly, if you have lupus, there is about a possibility of your child developing it later in life.

Joint and muscle pain is often the first sign of lupus, especially in the small joints of the hands and feet. The pain tends to move from joint to joint though it does not usually cause any permanent damage or deformation of joints. About one in 20 people with lupus develop more severe joint problems.

The commonest manifestations appear on the skin and mouth. A rash normally develops over parts of the body that are exposed to the sun including the face, wrists and hands. A butterfly-shaped rash over the cheeks and the bridge of the nose is especially most visible. You may mouth ulcers which may recur.


Cold weather creates an unsuitable environment for people with this disease as it results in their fingers changing colour from pale to blue and finally red. This is called Raynaud’s phenomenon, which is due to narrowing of the blood vessels causing a reduction in the blood supply to the fingers, or toes.

This can be treated successfully in most patients once identified at an early stage through regular urine, blood pressure and blood testing. Medication is prescribed to prevent permanent damage.

Treatment depends on its severity and the affected parts.

MARY KUNGU, Chiropractic and Physiotherapy Health Centre.