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When actor-turned-singer Selena Gomez disappeared from the spotlight in 2013, many people assumed she had simply succumbed to the pressures of being a young celebrity. In reality, however, Gomez was undergoing chemotherapy for lupus, a chronic autoimmune disorder that can result in both internal and external inflammation. It was only after Gomez’s disclosure of her diagnosis that lupus became more well known. Nonetheless, it still remains unfamiliar to many individuals who are unaffected by it today.

Lupus occurs when the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks its own tissues, joints, and/or organs. As a result of this potential widespread impact, symptoms of lupus can affect all parts of the body, causing everything from achy joints and fever to skin rashes and swollen ankles. The condition is often subdivided into specific types depending on the body region affected—for example, cutaneous lupus erythematosus is limited to the skin while systemic lupus erythematosus (the most common form) may impact major organ systems in severe cases. Thus, lupus can range from a minor inconvenience to a severe debilitation with symptoms that flare up at times and fade completely at others.

Persistent, unexplained fever can be a symptom of lupus.

Image source: TeamStatic

Despite being relatively unknown among the general public, lupus is fairly common—in fact, some estimates suggest that as many as 5 million people suffer from some form of it. Lupus is more common in women and usually appears between the ages of 15 and 44. In addition, women of minority backgrounds are two to three times more likely to develop lupus. Treatment for the condition varies on a case-by-case basis, although steroid creams for rashes and various chemotherapy drugs are commonly used. It is important to note that while lupus treatment can overlap with many of the immunosuppressant drugs given to cancer patients, lupus is not a form of cancer. It is also not related to other autoimmune diseases like HIV/AIDS.

Lupus itself is not typically fatal; most deaths result from complications that impact major organ systems. Though lupus has no cure and, thus, will affect a patient for the duration of their life, adherence to a treatment regimen discussed with a health professional can make a world of difference in quality of life. As Selena Gomez’s continuing music career has shown, lupus can be managed with the right resources.

Feature Image Source: Lupus erythematosus

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