Stephanie Andrews: Diagnosed with Lupus (Chronic Illness) 10 Years Ago
A little-discussed autoimmune condition that deserves our awareness is Lupus disease.
Lupus is a chronic, inflammatory disease where the immune system attacks its own tissues, leading to lifelong on and off inflammation of the skin, heart, brain, kidneys, lungs, and blood. It includes a range of debilitating symptoms like memory loss, headaches, fatigue, fever, breathing issues, and confusion.
Though no two cases are the same, Lupus also frequently causes photosensitivity in its victims. Worse, this insidious condition does not affect all demographics equally. Women, people between the ages of 15 and 44, and certain ethnic groups, such as the Asian, Pacific Islander, African American, Hispanic, and Native American communities are more prone to the condition.
While a family history of Lupus also predisposes you to the condition, more frequent culprits include environmental triggers (smoking, stress), abnormal hormonal levels, certain medications, and infections (caused by the Epstein-Barr virus and cytomegalovirus.)
"I take 3 pills a day and one injection per week. Sometimes having to take the medications can be frustrating but I know that it could be much worse."
When I was diagnosed with Lupus 10 years ago, it caught me and my family off guard. I was in my last year of Pharmacy school and I was excited about what life was going to bring next. My joints were aching, and I was completely exhausted. I remember getting wrist braces from the local drug store so that I could type and complete my pharmacy school requirements. After my primary care provider couldn’t find anything wrong, my mom suggested that I go see a rheumatologist. After running my lab work, I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
There are some days, that it would be easy to forget that I am living with this chronic illness. But I am quickly reminded when it is time to take my daily medications. I take 3 pills a day and one injection per week. Sometimes having to take the medications can be frustrating but I know that it could be much worse.
"I had heard the stories of how difficult it may be to conceive a child while living with lupus."
After being controlled with medications, it seemed like things were under control for a while. That is until my hair started falling out. My hair loss was such an outward expression of my disease. A few years after my first diagnosis, a dermatologist confirmed that I also had discoid lupus that affected my hair. Many of my saddest days with lupus have been days of hair loss. I have been wearing wigs for almost 10 years now. It has become a part of my new normal.
Over the years, I had heard the stories of how difficult it may be to conceive a child while living with lupus. So, in 2019 when I found out I was pregnant, it caught my husband and me off guard. 2 months prior to conceiving, my doctor told me that my fertility hormones were low and that it may be difficult to conceive. I remember feeling devastated and defeated. I quickly learned that God had other plans for me. We conceived a beautiful little girl in December 2019. My pregnancy was seamless. Despite constant nausea and vomiting, I didn’t have any lupus flares during my pregnancy or even after my natural birth with my doula.
10 years later, I’m happy to share that I’m living my best life. I have an amazing support system that I know that I can lean on. And every day that I look into my daughter’s eyes, I am reminded that there is still so much life to live!
What do I need to know about having lupus?
While there is no cure for Lupus, the condition is still very treatable and responsive to medication. The first step towards getting the right treatment plan for the condition is diagnosis. Physicians first follow the process of elimination by cross-referencing symptoms with possible conditions. If they zero in on Lupus after inquiring about the patient’s medical history and performing a physical examination, they may order blood tests (such as CBC, C-Reactive Protein test), urine tests for a urinalysis, and a tissue biopsy.
Treatment for Lupus includes a healthy diet that includes plentiful Omega-3, calcium, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Regular exercise, avoiding UV exposure and quitting negative lifestyle habits are known to treat the condition’s severity. Physicians may also prescribe certain medications, including NSAIDs, immunosuppressive drugs, corticosteroids, and antimalarial medicine. Though there are over 200,000 annual cases in the US, Lupus is still manageable with a healthy lifestyle and reliable ways to manage stress. If you think you suffer from any of the above symptoms or are more at risk, make sure to contact your physician to receive the best medical advice for your health and wellness!