Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease. It’s a condition that predominantly affects women, who account for 90 per cent of cases. Yet, unlike conditions such as breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, there is a widespread lack of understanding about lupus.
If untreated, lupus can be a debilitating disease, with sufferers experiencing issues with their skin, hair, joints and organs.
“We have one case in 2,000 people in Dubai among Emiratis — we did a study for that,” says Dr Jamal Al Saleh, Consultant Rheumatologist and Head of Unit at Dubai Hospital, DHA.
Dr Al Saleh reiterates that early detection is essential in the successful treatment of patients. “One determinate of a good prognosis is early diagnosis and treatment. We have found this in a study where we took 151 cases and followed them for five years. We found that one third of them, after five years were taking low medication or no treatment at all and their lupus was under control.”
Lupus commonly affects people in the 20s and 30s. Dr Al Saleh highlights the symptoms that people can use to identify the disease such as a rash that affects the area of the face in the fold between the cheek and mouth, mouth ulcers, weight loss and aching joints. If you’re suffering from any of these issues, Dr Saleh recommends visiting a Primary Healthcare Centre, where you can be referred you to a specialist.
If you are diagnosed with lupus, you will be treated with a combination of steroids and immunosuppressive drugs such as azathioprine and cyclophosphamide.
“We even use antimalarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine, which is an anti-inflammatory, non-steroidal drug,” explains Dr Al Saleh.
One of the biggest misconceptions about the disease is that women with lupus are unable to have children. This is untrue and in fact Dubai Hospital was the first centre in the Middle East to launch a combined obstetric and rheumatology clinic for lupus sufferers.
If lupus is controlled for six months prior to the pregnancy, then sufferers can become mothers. Nevertheless, if lupus is untreated, there can be complications, as the progression of the disease will increase substantially as the patient enters pregnancy. “This can lead to problems such as pre-eclampsia or renal failure,” explains Dr Al Saleh.
Dr Al Saleh worked alongside a global expert on the condition when
he launched the specialist clinic.
“When we started the obstetric and rheumatology clinic, we had the world expert from UK, Prof. Munther Khamashta, who was on a sabbatical for the past two years to run that and treat lupus patients as well,” he says.
What lupus sufferers and their friends and family should take solace in is that if detected early enough, Dubai offers world-class support, allowing individuals to live full and healthy lives.