SYRACUSE It was a word six years in the making — two vowels sandwiched between three consonants, bearing six years of frustration and complications to last a lifetime. The word is lupus, a relatively simple word for something increasingly complex for myself and 1.5 million other Americans diagnosed with the autoimmune disease.
Lupus, like other autoimmune diseases, is the result of the body fighting itself. Cells misbehave and attack healthy tissue causing a painful inflammation response.
My diagnosis came after six years, ten medical specialists in three cities, dozens of emergency room visits and hundreds of medications. More aggressive testing through Upstate’s rheumatology department brought me an answer — finally, an answer — after years of being sick. Some diagnoses come sooner, some take longer. No two diagnoses are the same, just as no two lupus patients are the same.
Dr. Andras Perl, chief of rheumatology at Upstate Medical University, says the criteria for diagnosing someone with lupus can be a roadblock to care for the disease. In order to be diagnosed, a certain amount of criterion must be present. Lupus is a disease of flares, with symptoms waxing and waning, provoked by triggers such as the sun, stress or lack of sleep. Flares can last a day, a week, a month or even years, requiring additional medications, infusions and hospital treatment. Symptoms can be present in whole one day, and gone the next, making the overall lupus story a difficult one to tell.
“Sometimes patients don’t provide the whole story,” Perl said. “Sometimes doctors don’t seek the whole story. Part of the difficulty is someone not making an effort. They must be adamant about crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s.”
Lupus is one in a class of “invisible diseases,” because patients often don’t “look sick.” Symptoms can be muskoskeletal, can involve organs, like the kidneys and lungs, and can affect the brain and cognitive systems. Different treatments will come into play depending on how involved the lupus is — ranging from anti-malarials and vitamin D, to frequent infusions and even chemotherapy.