The tabloids have announced that Selena Gomez is taking a break from her work to deal with anxiety, panic attacks and depression associated with lupus. But fans would never know that she has the disease, and that, in itself, is one of the most frustrating parts of lupus: it can be an invisible illness. “Lupus affects everyone so differently—which is why we call it the disease of a thousand faces,” says Leanne Mielczarek, National Operations Manager at Lupus Canada. “How it may affect one person, it may not affect the next person the same way, and diagnosis can be very tricky. But learning more about the disease is the first step, so here are a few things to know:
What is lupus, exactly?
Lupus is an autoimmune (AI) disease that causes inflammation in one or more parts of the body—from the brain to your muscles to your heart to your kidneys, and even your skin. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body attacks itself because it thinks the body’s healthy cells are in fact invaders. Other AI diseases are multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. According to Lupus Canada, women between the ages of 15 and 45 are eight times more likely to get lupus than men.
What are the symptoms?
This is where things get tricky. Because the disease affects different parts of the body, it can be difficult for doctors to diagnose—as many of the symptoms, like fatigue and joint pain, are common in other medical conditions—and can even take years to put the pieces together. Some of the signs to look out for are: ulcers in the nose and mouth, unusual reactions to the sun, a red scaly rash and a rash across the nose and cheeks (among many others). Often, blood tests will show inflammatory markers as well, though even then diagnosing is not cut and dried.
Why is depression and anxiety associated with lupus?
This remains unclear but, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, it’s thought that because lupus can affect the brain, it can too affect one’s mental health via various biochemical processes. In addition, people with lupus could develop depression and anxiety as a result of the burden of dealing with a chronic health condition.
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