More than 5,000,000 women, men, and children around the world have been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus. With so many people affected, you might assume that the disease is well understood by the general public. But many myths still surround this disease, and these myths can affect the way you feel about yourself, how others react to you, and how you manage your symptoms.
At the Rheumatology Center of New Jersey, our board-certified rheumatologists help you understand and manage lupus so that you never feel alone. We also work with other members of your health care team to keep you healthy and happy at every stage of life. Following are a few of the myths surrounding lupus and the facts you need to know.
MYTH: Lupus is a form of cancer
FACT: Even though some people, including celebrity Selena Gomez, undergo chemotherapy to control their lupus, it’s not a type of cancer. Lupus is an autoimmune disease. Normally, your immune system only attacks pathogens that threaten your health, but if you have lupus, your immune system also attacks healthy tissues.
Some doctors use chemotherapy to treat lupus because the drugs suppress your immune system and subdue the inflammation that can damage your skin and other organs. One drug used for both chemotherapy and lupus is the immunosuppressant cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan®), which may be delivered intravenously. We may recommend cyclophosphamide if lupus affects your kidneys or lungs.
MYTH: There’s only one kind of lupus
FACT: Lupus is classified into two types: discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), also called cutaneous lupus, and the more serious systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). If you have DLE, most of your symptoms are related to sunlight-exposed areas of your skin. The classic sign of DLE is disc-like lesions that leave scars when they heal.
If you have SLE, you could have symptoms that affect all of your tissues, including your blood vessels, organs, and joints. The classic sign of SLE is a butterfly-shaped rash across your nose and face that may leave a scar after it heals. When you have a flare of either DLE or SLE, getting treatment helps prevent damage.
Another form of lupus is called drug-induced lupus. This type is caused by medications that overstimulate your immune system and trigger lupus-like symptoms. When you discontinue the drug, your symptoms disappear.
MYTH: Men don’t get lupus
FACT: Although women are 4-12 times more likely to get lupus than men are, some men do develop lupus. Women tend to develop the disease during their childbearing years (ages 14-44). African-American, Asian, Native American, and Hispanic women are at higher risk for lupus than Caucasian women.
MYTHS: Lupus has a single cause
FACT: Drug-induced cases of lupus are caused by medications such as procainamide and hydralazine. Once those medications are stopped, your symptoms resolve.
But no one yet knows what causes SLE and DLE. Some theories include genetics, stress, exposure to environmental toxins, or some combination.
New drugs and treatments are continually in development to help people with lupus manage their symptoms and live full, rich lives. In partnership with your rheumatologist, you can stay on top of the latest research by joining support groups or following groups that are actively searching for a cure or new treatments.
MYTH: You can cure lupus with your diet
FACT: Right now, lupus has no cure. Eating a wholesome diet with plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits supports your immune system and increases your overall health, possibly reducing the severity of flares. When you come for lupus treatment, we may recommend some lifestyle changes, including:
- Eating more fresh foods
- Getting more exercise
- Avoiding the sun
- Improving your sleep
- Using stress-management techniques
Whenever you have a flare, you should contact us right away.
MYTH: You can’t get pregnant if you have lupus
FACT: Lupus raises your levels of the hormone estrogen and may make it more difficult to conceive. Lupus also increases your risk for complications during pregnancy and delivery. But many women with lupus have healthy children.
MYTH: Lupus is contagious
FACT: Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can’t be transmitted through any form of physical contact, including sexual contact. The lesions you may develop on your skin are the result of your immune system attacking healthy tissue. Though they may look contagious, they’re not.
MYTH: Lupus is like AIDS
FACT: Women, men, and children with HIV/AIDS have underactive immune systems, which means that they can’t fight infections. If you have lupus, your immune system reacts in just the opposite way: It’s overactive and attacks healthy tissues, instead of only attacking pathogens.
To get help managing your lupus with effective medications, contact us today by phone or use the online booking form.