- Joe Raedle/Getty Images
- Lupus is an inflammatory disease caused when the immune system attacks its own tissues.
- There are many myths surrounding the incurable disease.
- For example, the severity of lupus varies and, although it’s more likely to affect women, it can affect men as well.
Since Selena Gomez opened up about her struggle with lupus in 2015 and again last year when she revealed that she underwent a kidney transplant for the disease, myths have surfaced about what exactly lupus is.
There’s a lot of misinformation out there about this chronic illness, but it’s important to understand the diagnosis that people living with lupus are experiencing. Here are 11 myths about lupus you may not realize aren’t true.
Myth: Lupus is a kidney and joint disease.
“Lupus may affect many organ systems,” Dr. Sheldon Bastacky, a pathologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told INSIDER. “Including the skin, body cavities, kidney … coronary arteries … and neurologic [systems].”
Patients diagnosed with lupus can suffer from complications like rashes, kidney failure, headaches, joint pain/stiffness, blood clots, and heart attacks, according to Mayo Clinic.
Myth: Lupus is contagious.
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“Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that is due to dysregulation of the immune system, Dr. Bastacky told INSIDER “The immune system normally distinguishes self-antigens from foreign antigens.”
But, in cases of lupus, this distinguishing ability is lacking, per the Lupus Foundation of America.
“Your immune system cannot tell the difference between these foreign invaders and your body’s healthy tissues … As a result, it creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue,” Dr. Bastacky said.
So, long story short, you cannot “catch” lupus from someone or “give” lupus to someone.
Myth: Lupus triggers are always known.
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People with an inherited predisposition may develop lupus when they contact an environmental trigger, according to the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Bastacky elaborated: “Following some triggering event (such as a viral infection), the immune system is activated.”
Potential triggers include sunlight, infections, and some medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. The cause of lupus in most cases, however, is unknown.
Myth: Lupus is curable.
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There’s no cure for lupus, according to the National Lupus Foundation. Rather, treating lupus is a lifelong process.
Drug-induced lupus, however, is reversible in most cases, according to the Foundation with the lupus-like symptoms usually disappearing within six months after these medications are stopped.
Myth: Lupus is easy to diagnose.
Lupus is a difficult condition to diagnose, according to the Mayo Clinic. This is mostly because its signs and symptoms may vary over time and overlap with those of many other disorders.
There are guidelines to help physicians diagnose lupus. Bastacky noted that, “The American College of Rheumatology Association has developed criteria for the diagnosis of lupus.”
Myth: There’s only one type of lupus.
According to the National Lupus Foundation, there are four different types of lupus: systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common form of lupus; cutaneous lupus erythematosus (“limited to the skin”); drug-induced lupus; and neonatal lupus.
Myth: Lupus is diagnosed with one test.
According to Mayo Clinic, a combination of laboratory tests, signs and symptoms, and a physical exam help to confirm the diagnosis.
There is one test, however, which is positive in nearly all lupus patients, according to the Merck Manual. “A blood test can detect antinuclear antibodies (ANA), which are present in almost all people who have lupus,” its lupus patient information page states. “However, these antibodies also occur in other diseases.”
Myth: Lupus is always severe.
Symptoms can vary greatly from person to person, and many cases of lupus are on the mild end of the spectrum, according to the Merck Manual.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most mild cases are characterized by flares – when signs and symptoms get worse for a while, then improve or even disappear completely for a time.
Myth: Lupus only affects women.
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While lupus is most common in biologic women, men can also be affected, according to experts.
Myth: There’s one drug to treat lupus.
- Lucas Jackson/Reuters
There are medications which are more commonly used as first-line therapies for lupus patients.
“Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine) is generally the first-line treatment option for [lupus],” Dr. Kimberly Liang, a rheumatologist who cares for patients at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Lupus Center of Excellence, told INSIDER. “Sometimes prednisone will also be needed as a first-line treatment option, depending on the severity of the disease.”
Dr. Liang added that stronger agents are sometimes needed.
“Patients with mild disease are usually well-managed on first-line therapies, but those with the moderate-severe disease typically eventually require stronger immune suppressing agents.”
Myth: Women with lupus can’t get pregnant.
Some may believe that a lupus diagnosis means that pregnancy isn’t possible, but this isn’t true, Dr. Liang told INSIDER.
“Many lupus patients can carry successful pregnancies, but they should be planned in advance and the disease should be in remission for at least three to six months before attempting to become pregnant.”
“Also, lupus patients should be followed by a high-risk OB-GYN,” said Dr. Liang.
Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more.