What is Lupus?
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body (all organs, skin, joints). Essentially, with lupus there is a malfunction within the immune system and the body attacks itself as it misreads healthy tissues as foreign invaders. Sounds a little bit like cancer, right? Wrong. Cancer is a condition of malignant and abnormal tissues growing rapidly whereas lupus is an autoimmune disease, as previously explained. However, both utilize immunosuppressant drugs as treatment.
Personally, prior to being in PT school I was not aware of what lupus was and did not know anything about it. Since becoming aware of it I have met more and more people that are leading perfectly normal lives with the disease, but only because they are appropriately managing it. It is important to educate on various diseases, especially ones that are so manageable. Many of the symptoms aren’t very alarming and physicians do not initially think to test for lupus when you show up with complaints.
What are some of the common symptoms of lupus?
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Joint and Muscle Pain
- Light/sun sensitivity
- Skin rashes (specifically the butterfly rash, which covers the cheeks and bridge of nose)
- Severe changes in weight
- Swollen lymph glands
These are all symptoms that are easily mistaken for other issues and ignored. Please, if you find that you are experiencing any of these for extended periods of time or that they are presenting in some type of cycle, get checked! You are your own best advocate. If you don’t work towards deciphering your health, who will?
When you start to notice that something doesn’t seem right, keep a log and take note of the time of day that you feel pain or swelling, the frequency, and the intensity. This goes for all symptoms, not just the ones listed above, the information is helpful for your physician team to provide you with the best possible care.
While in PT school, a friend of mine went through the process of having some of the above listed symptoms but lupus was not what any of us thought the diagnosis would be. With today being a day to educate about the disease, my friend wanted to share their experience with the process of questioning the presenting symptoms, going to the doctor, and being diagnosed with Lupus:
“I was diagnosed with lupus less than a year ago. Most people who are diagnosed with lupus go to an average of 10 doctors before being diagnosed. I went to 2 doctors, gave 2 vials of blood, and was diagnosed. I'm lucky for that.
It all started around the beginning of 2016. I started feeling pain and restrictions in the range of motion of my fingers of both hands. When my hands started symmetrically hurting and swelling, I had a feeling that something was up. I had no idea what was going on because there was seemingly no physical reason why my hands hurt this way and the same on both sides. I tried limiting my sodium intake because I read that could be a contributor, as well as cutting out alcohol and dairy. Nothing worked. It wasn't until the summer that I noticed the pain and swelling was getting worse. I started feeling pain in more proximal joints, and it eventually got so painful it was hard to get dressed in the morning. As the day wore on, my joints loosened and I was able to function. I went to a couple of critical care clinics and was provided with a steroid pack. They helped for the duration of the medicine, but then the pain would eventually come back.
I was lucky to have this happen while being a physical therapy student. I could tell that these symmetrical aches and pains, that were cyclically worse in the morning, were not normal. These symptoms sound like osteoarthritis, but I was 25. I went to a family practice doctor who took a sample of blood, found antinucleic antibodies, but no rheumatoid factor. He referred me to a rheumatologist who took another sample and diagnosed me with lupus. Ever since I have been medicated, I have been dealing with my condition. I am no longer suffering but I am still finding different triggers that affect my joints.
I did not have any of the other typical symptoms (such as the butterfly rash or being overly sensitive to the sun). I was lethargic but attributed that to being in graduate school. My only symptoms were joint pain and swelling. Now that I know what my diagnosis is I can actively work on not letting it hold me back from my life.”
Check out http://www.worldlupusday.org for more information. Thanks again for all of the #WellfieWednesday support, be sure to post your pictures this week and tag the WW crew members (@PBernerSPT, @Eric_in_AmERICa, @AaronPerezPT, @fitnerdaimee, @DianaKlatt) and keep the wave of healthy change going!