The Lupus Loop: Signs For One Of The Most Misdiagnosed Diseases

African American woman with braids in office

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that attacks the healthy tissues inside of your body. Unlike HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) where the immune system is underactive, lupus causes your immune system to be overactive. When your immune system is working at optimal level it produces antibodies that fight off germs, viruses and bacteria (foreign invaders). In autoimmune diseases such as lupus your body is unable to detect these foreign invaders, and it creates autoantibodies that destroy your healthy tissue.

READ: Seal: A Lesson In Lupus

Lupus can affect any part of the body (organs, skin, joints, muscles, etc). People that suffer from lupus often experience pain, inflammation and damage in various parts of their body. The flare-up nature of lupus leaves many feeling better for stretches and worse during periods of time as well.

This disease disproportionately affects women more than men. A University of Michigan study revealed that Black women are three times more likely to develop lupus than any other race. This disease often affects women during the childbearing ages 15-44, but the onset for Black women can occur earlier according to studies. Erica Mangham, Western Region Development Director, of the Lupus Research Alliance (formerly named Alliance for Lupus Research), attests to this.

“We don’t know why African Americans are disproportionally affected by lupus,” says Mangham. “There has not been enough studies which is a challenge for researcher however, given the history of African American unfortunately that stigma and or ideology still runs deep today. There has been some progress but we still have a long way to go to capture that data. We do know that out of the 1.5 million Americans diagnose 90% of those are women and African Americans are 3 times more likely to be diagnosed with lupus,” she explains.

Despite the shocking statistics , this disease is still relatively misunderstood and hard to diagnose amongst medical professionals. BlackDoctor.org has reported that lupus is one of the top diseases misdiagnosed in Blacks, with over half of Black women who suffer from the disease being misdiagnosed with something else after seeing the doctor several times.  Black women like Kimberly Dansby tell a stark tale of misdiagnosis. She was misdiagnosed for six years before getting a correct diagnosis. Her story in EBONY sheds light on what it’s like living with lupus while Black and female.

BlackDoctor.org wants our queens to be ahead of the pack, so I’ve compiled a list of 7 ways to detect lupus.

Muscle and Joint Pain

The Lupus Foundation of America says that more than half of the people who develop lupus experience joint pain as their first symptom. It’s estimated that over 90 percent of the people with lupus will experience myalgia (muscle aches and pain) or joint pain at some point during their illness. These flare ups of pain cause muscle tenderness, weakness and loss of strength. No lupus is alike, so it’s important to speak with a rheumatologist( physicians who specialize in muscles, bones and joints) about your symptoms.  Although inflammation is the most common reasons for these muscle aches and pains, still see your doctor to get an accurate perspective on your specific condition. Oftentimes inflammations in various parts of the body are accompanied by fevers, sweats, chills, fatigue, weight loss and muscle weakness.

READ: Shey Webb: A Lupus Fitness Warrior

Affects the Skin

It’s very common for people with lupus to experience some form of skin disease. In fact two-thirds will develop a skin disease called cutaneous lupus erythematous. Rashes and sores often appear in areas where your skin will be vulnerable to the sun (legs, neck, ears, face and arms). According to the Lupus Foundation 40-70 percent of lupus sufferers say that their disease is agitated by exposure to UV rays from the sunlight or artificial light. Lupus skin disease occurs in three forms: chronic cutaneous (discoid) lupus, subacute cutaneous lupus and acute cutaneous lupus.

Discoid lupus symptoms are marked by disk-shaped, round lesions that usually appear on the face or scalp, but sometimes can appear on other parts of the body. These lesions don’t hurt or itch, but if they appear on the scalp it might cause hair loss.

Subacute cutaneous lupus symptoms are red scaly lesions with distinct a red ring shape or edge. These also occur in unexposed areas of the body (arms, neck, body and shoulders). They don’t itch, but they can become discolored.

Acute cutaneous lupus most commonly occurs as a rash on the face. The rash on the face will be red and closely resemble a sunburn. If the rash appears on both cheeks and across the bridge of the nose it’s commonly referred to as the “butterfly rash”. This rash can appear on other parts of the body and is also sensitive to light.