Lupus is a type of autoimmune disease that can cause widespread damage to areas of the body, including the joints, skin, heart, blood vessels, brain, kidneys, bones, and lungs, medics explain.
Lupus affects women more than men, women also may experience more severe symptoms during pregnancy and with their menstrual period.
However, experts say that severe fatigue, joint pain, joint swelling, headaches, and a rash on the cheeks and nose, hair loss, anaemia, blood, clotting problems, fingers turning white or blue, and tingling when cold, are serious symptoms of lupus.
Dr Ruzindana Kenneth, a consultant at Kigali University Teaching Hospital (CHUK), says that lupus, also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an inflammatory disease, which affects various parts of the body.
He says that lupus is an autoimmune condition, this means that the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues thinking that they are foreign, this can lead to pain, swelling, and often damage to certain organs such as the kidneys.
The body’s immune system kills germs and “bad” cells that could turn into cancer. Sometimes, instead of killing only bad cells, something goes wrong and the immune system starts to attack healthy cells. That is called an auto immune response. It is what happens in lupus. In other words, if you have lupus, your body is attacking itself, he adds.
“The cause of lupus is not clear, people with lupus have disease flares in which symptoms worsen, followed by a period of remission where the symptoms improve, the disease is mild in some people and life threatening to others.
“However, there are treatments available to reverse the inflammation or reduce symptoms or to minimise organ damage,” he explains.
Ruzindana says that the exact cause of lupus is not known, since one could probably inherit the risk from one or both parents, although results do not develop until young adulthood or later.
He adds that symptoms can be caused by inflammation, which can affect the body. If the whole body is affected, there are symptoms that manifest, such as fatigue (this is very debilitating as almost everyone with lupus experiences it, even when there are no other symptoms.)
Other symptoms include, weight changes such as weight loss or weight gain; weight loss is often due to decreased appetite, gastro intestinal diseases, while weight gain is usually due to two factors, salt and water retention, which is associated with the kidneys, he says.
“Fever is also another symptom of lupus, if it is an organ, specific related symptoms may include skin rash, easy bruising due to decreased number of the platelets in the blood. Platelets are the blood cells in the blood that cause the blood to clot when you bleed, Ruzindana notes.
He adds that there is no definitive cure for lupus, a variety of treatments can be used to reduce symptoms, to limit damage to vital organs, and also reduce the risk of recurrence.
Eric Mutabazi, a senior physiotherapist at Oshen King Faisal Hospital, Kigali, says exercises like swimming, walking, cycling, and hiking are advised for lupus patients, although with very little significance.
Ruzindana says that diet and nutrition is very important, lupus patients should feed on a well-balanced diet, one that is low in fat. Fruits like mangoes, passion fruits, and papaya, vegetables and whole grains like corn should be added to one’s diet, including a moderate amount of chicken and fish.
Mutabazi advises to switch from red meat to fatty fish, as red meat is full of saturated fat, which can contribute to heart disease.