'Disease of 1,000 faces': Understanding lupus


Posted at Jan 09 2019 10:05 PM

It has been described as a disease of 1,000 faces, affecting some 5 million people worldwide. 

TV personality Kris Aquino recently made the news when she admitted she is fighting a "form of lupus" that makes her allergic to "everything in the environment" including trees and high temperatures. 

Her admission, which came amid a legal battle against former business partner Nicko Falcis, follows her earlier revelation that she was diagnosed with chronic spontaneous urticaria and was just "one fatal allergic reaction from anaphylactic shock."

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage any part of the body including the skin, joints, and/or organs. "Chronic" means that the signs and symptoms tend to last longer than six weeks and often for many years.

Rheumatologist Sandra Navarra said lupus means something is wrong with a person's immune system.

A person with lupus has a hyperactive immune system "but it is a useless hyperactivity that needs to be suppressed," Navarra told radio DZMM. Suppressing this hyperactivity, however, is a double-edged sword since the body loses the usual immune response to viruses, bacteria and foreign antigens. 

"Sa lupus, ang nangyayari kasi diyan, ang nilalabanan ng sarili mong immune system ay iyong sariling katawan. Para kang nagkakaroon ng kudeta sa katawan mo," she said in a "Good Vibes" interview. 

Some of the common triggers for lupus symptoms include ultraviolet rays from the sun or fluorescent lights, certain antibiotic drugs and stress. Symptoms of lupus may include fatigue, painful or swollen joints, swelling in the hands, feet, or around the eyes, headaches, low-grade fever, sensitivity to sunlight or fluorescent light, hair loss, anemia and others. 

Dr. Geraldine Zamora-Racaza, an expert on internal medicine, noted lupus is not easy to diagnose since some of its symptoms are common with other illnesses. It took Diwa party-list Rep. Emmeline Aglipay-Villar 6 years before she discovered that she had lupus. 

Zamora-Racaza said lupus is also "multi-factorial", meaning there is not one common trigger for lupus symptoms. "If your mother had lupus, there is a chance that you might get it but it's not automatic," she said. 

According to the Lupus Foundation of America, lupus is not contagious, not even through sexual contact. You cannot "catch" lupus from someone or "give" lupus to someone. Lupus can range from mild to life-threatening and should always be treated by a doctor. 

During the first phase of treatment, people of lupus are given anti-immunosuppressive drugs to combat inflammation. Navarra said doctors give individualized therapy to lupus patients to prevent complications arising from the treatment as a result of suppressing the immune system. 

"The treatment is very individualized because some patients may flare up while taking the drugs while others are okay," she said. 

For those diagnosed with lupus, Navarra recommends a healthy diet of fish, fruit and vegetables. Salty foods are a no-no. 

She also urges lupus patients to avoid sunlight as ultraviolet rays may induce flare-ups of the illness. 

Aquino earlier said chronic spontaneous urticaria, her disease, “affects less than 1% of the world’s population,” and it can last between one to five years, or decades.

Aquino’s case falls under the latter category, she said.