Lupus is autoimmune disease where the immune system treats the body’s own tissue as a foreign substance and produces antibodies to fight it.
The damage caused by these antibodies may produce symptoms such as:
• Arthritic joint disease,
• Heart damage,
• Shortness of breath
• Impaired kidney function
The disease follows an irregular course of remissions and flare-ups.
The exact cause or trigger for lupus remains unknown. Research has shown that the disease results when a specific set of susceptible genes is exposed to a combination of environmental factors such as infectious agents, certain drugs, excessive ultraviolet light, physical trauma, or emotional stress.
Dr. Simani, a rheumatologist reveals that diagnosing lupus is difficult: “The tests required for confirmation are relatively expensive. Secondly, lupus can manifest itself in a very innocuous way. A doctor in say, Migori or Western Kenya, might treat one for malaria. To avoid this, we have been training clinical officers and nurses on how to diagnose lupus in the counties.”
Currently, there are no statistics on how many Kenyans are living with the condition. What is known is that lupus strikes women 10 to 15 times more than men. “The disease is most common in women who are in their child-bearing age but it can also occur in men. It often develops between the ages of 18 and 40. This tells us that there must be hormonal contribution because cases below or above these ages are rare.”
“The oldest person I have ever treated was a 65-year-old woman while the youngest was a foetus. The boy is now on medication. He’ll live a full life because the condition was detected early.”
Treatment for lupus requires a balance of medication and the control of environmental factors. A patient with lupus should avoid sunlight, eat a healthy diet, exercise and minimize stress.