US singer Selena Gomez has revealed she underwent a kidney transplant as a result of lupus.
She revealed her battle with the disease back in 2015, and took a break from her career last year to deal with anxiety and depression stemming from her diagnosis.
Here’s a little bit more about the condition.
What is lupus?
- It’s an autoimmune disease
- It’s most common in women aged 15 to 45
- It impacts joints, the heart, liver, kidneys
- There is no cure
So, what is lupus?
It’s an autoimmune disease.
A normal, healthy immune system is able to recognise foreign objects like bacteria and viruses, before fighting them off.
However, in autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system starts to attack objects that aren’t foreign.
Essentially, your body’s immune system starts attacking its own body.
With lupus, the immune system makes an excess amount of proteins called antibodies that attach themselves to different structures of the body, which cause inflammation and pain.
There are also a few different types of lupus.
- Discoid lupus erythematosus — which causes a skin rash that doesn’t go away
- Subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus — which causes skin sores on parts of the body exposed to sun
- Drug-induced lupus — which can be caused by medications.
What does it affect and what’s it like to live with?
Because the immune system attacks healthy cells, it can cause damage to joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, blood vessels and the brain.
Common complaints include stiff and painful joints, fever, fatigue, rashes and sensitive skin, chest pain, hair loss and mouth ulcers.
The early symptoms of the disease can include bloody or foamy urine, unexplained weight gain, high blood pressure or swelling in the legs, ankles or around the eyes.
Lupus Association of NSW president Barbara Ward said it was a tough life for many patients.
“Their day-to-day lives are horrendous,” Mrs Ward said.
“People are very sick … they are in pain in all parts of their body.
“They are depressed … they can’t go out … they have rashes on their face.
“It really is one of the most debilitating illnesses in modern times.”
She said apart from a rash on the face, steroid medications can make people living with lupus look healthier than they really are, making it a “hidden illness”, which can be lethal.
This is on top of the fact the pain can come and go, making it hard for loved ones to understand the severity of the illness during a flare-up.
Who is most likely to get it?
Women, aged between 15 and 45 are the most likely to be affected.
It’s much more rare for a man to get the disease, and they develop slightly different symptoms if they get it.
How long does it take to diagnose?
For some, many years.
Diagnosing lupus is also a complex matter, as there’s no single test for it.
Diagnosis often follows ruling out a range of diseases which have similar symptoms.
“GPs are getting better but we have instances of females who took five years [for a diagnosis],” she said.
“There is not a diagnostic tool as such, and in the meantime we’ve had females who’ve had a stroke or a heart attack because of the undiagnosis of lupus.”
She said many people had contacted the association after being told by their GPs they did not have the condition, despite having a range of symptoms.
What causes it?
The cause is still unknown, but there are several things scientists believe cause a trigger, including hormones, medications, stress, genetics, pregnancy and exposure to UV light.
One in 600 Australians have lupus.
But Mrs Ward said there were likely to be many more, with cases of unexplained heart disease and kidney failure not being investigated for lupus as an underlying cause.
Is there a cure?
However, there are many treatments available to people living with lupus to minimise the impacts of the disease, including anti-inflammatories for mild cases of lupus, and stronger prescription medications to help quieten the immune system to protect vital organs from further damage.
There are also several lifestyle changes.
For Selena Gomez, a kidney transplant was required.
A body needs just one healthy kidney to live, and lupus tends not to come back after the operation, as the drugs that prevents kidney rejection is also good at treating lupus.
Mrs Ward said the Lupus Association of NSW was working hard to advocate for patients by lobbying state and federal governments, offer phone support for clients as well as referring for specialised mental health counselling and helping those living with lupus live as well as possible with proper diet, exercise and lifestyle choices.
She said they were also hopeful a current clinical trial by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca would produce some positive medical options for patients.
“But again the Government needs to invest,” she said
Photo from instagram @selenagomez