What's the Purple Mean? Honoring Lupus Awareness Month
You’re familiar with pink ribbons for breast cancer and red ribbons for heart disease, but what about purple? Purple ribbons can be seen all over Facebook this month because May is Lupus Awareness Month.
Do you know someone who has been diagnosed, yet you still struggle to understand this mystery disease? Have you had lunch dates cancelled, been called in to cover extra shifts, appointments rescheduled, school pick up thrown at you last minute? For those of you out there with friends & family with Lupus, here’s a brief overview of what the sufferers are going through, and what you can do to better understand it.
1. Lupus in complicated & unpredictable. Symptoms strike at random and last for varying lengths of time, from hours to days. Imagine being on a beach vacay with the fam, and suddenly, without warning, a rash appears across your face and you’re so exhausted you can hardly move, regardless of the 10 hours you slept. Family vacay down the drain.
2. Lupus involves the immune system. Normal immune systems guard against viruses, bacteria & germs. Immune systems compromised by Lupus mistakenly attack the body’s own healthy tissues, causing inflammation. Very quickly, normal activities become a nightmare. Grocery shopping, volunteering at school, business meetings, hair appointments you’ve had planned for two months now bring the fear of germs and viruses.
3. Lupus is not contagious. While causes are not fully understood, it’s believed factors include genetics, environmental stress, and hormones. It’d be so much easier if a solid cause was determined, wouldn’t it?! Environmental stress – because listening to your kids fight in the back seat is never gonna stop.
4. Symptoms vary. Some of the more common: hair loss, fever, extreme fatigue, joint pain or swelling, muscle pain, skin sores & rashes, harsh sensitivity to light, chest pain, Reynaud’s Phenomenon – condition characterized by fingers or toes turning blue or white due to lack of oxygen.
5. There are 4 types of Lupus.
This is what you probably think of when you hear Lupus. Inflammation of different major organs can cause confusion, memory loss, headaches, strokes, seizures, high fevers, behavioral changes, heart attacks, and can affect the body’s ability to filter waste from the blood.
This form is limited to the skin. Can include skin / nose / mouth sores as well as rashes, especially across the face.
Lupus-like disease caused by prescription drugs. Symptoms are similar to that of Systemic Lupus but rarely involve major organs. Drugs most commonly connected include Hydralazine (high blood pressure), Procainamide (irregular heart rhythms), Isoniazid (tuberculosis). This type of lupus is more common in men than women and symptoms usually subside within 6 months of discontinuing medications.
Not a true form of Lupus, but rather a rare condition that affects infants of mothers with Lupus. At birth, infants may have a skin rash, liver problems, or low blood cell counts. Symptoms disappear completely after several months with no lasting effects and infants grow up healthy.
6. Women are more-often diagnosed. Females of childbearing age are 10 times more likely to be diagnosed than males. Whether that is because women are more likely than men to seek medical attention for symptoms is unknown.
Clearly, because of its chronic nature, Lupus touches all aspects of daily life – work, school, family, finances, relationships. As a friend of a Lupus-sufferer, as someone who has seen this first-hand, what can you do to help? For starters, become aware. Lupus.org is a great place to learn more. Secondly, practice empathy & forgiveness – let that cancelled lunch just get rescheduled!