Psychology Chartered

World Lupus Day 2018

Posted by Elliot Miller

10th May 2018

Lupus vulgaris: Figs 1 and 2 showing profile and three-quarter front view of face of female patient.

By Chloe Nunan

May 10th marks World Lupus Day 2018 – a day dedicated to spreading awareness of lupus and initiating change. Lupus is a life changing – and sometimes fatal – disease that calls for a lot of support and understanding towards those affected. It affects a wide range of people, however, around 90% more women are diagnosed. Therefore, it is the responsibility of those unaffected along with those who are affected, to join together and get involved in doing whatever is needed in order to fight this unpredictable and commonly misunderstood disease.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease/inflammatory disease in which the body’s immune system begins attacking its own organs and tissue. Inflammation from this can affect any organ, including the kidneys, the brain, blood cells, the heart, joints and most commonly the skin. Diagnosis is tricky as symptoms tend to mimic those of other ailments, however a major stipulation of this condition is a facial rash which resembles the wings of a butterfly across the nose and cheeks. Although following a diagnosis of lupus, the sufferer also has a lot of non-physiological problems to face.

The disease can directly affect the brain and is probably the feature that is most feared amongst lupus sufferers. These effects – varying by day or by week – can make assessment difficult. At its most severe level, lupus can cause seizures, strokes, memory loss and psychosis. Pathological causes of these neurological and psychiatric effects are diverse and need appropriate investigation, especially as the response to typical psychiatric drugs such as neuroleptics (anti-psychotics or major tranquillisers) or mood stabilisers (such as lithium or other drugs used in epilepsy such as carbamazepine) may be inadequate, and a better response may be obtained with treatment of the underlying disease. Steroids themselves can cause depression, confusion states or euphoria along with other less severe symptoms including poor concentration, headaches and mood swings.

Staggeringly enough, there is still stigma around psychiatric illness, especially if patients or the doctors and nurses involved believe the symptoms are just part of the disease or ‘all in the mind’. Rates of psychiatric illness, depression and anxiety are especially common in younger women and so can be present on a relatively regular basis in those with lupus. It can be difficult to differentiate if symptoms such as fatigue and a lack of energy are physical or mental in nature (though it is worth noting that physical and mental symptoms frequently co-exist and can exacerbate one another).

When diagnosed with a life-long condition, mental wellbeing is often reduced due to a decrease in mood, attitude and thoughts about the future. Imagine being told your life is going to play out differently to how you had planned – it’s a daunting thought. Anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions affecting lupus sufferers, mainly when the illness flares and is at it’s most severe. It is useful to know the signs and seek help as soon as they begin to appear, with local GP’s usually the first best point of contact.

For more information and to find out how you can get involved, here are a few helpful sites: