When Selena Gomez revealed that she underwent chemotherapy to treat something called lupus, a lot of her fans were left wondering what that meant. Chemotherapy is typically associated with cancer, but the good news for Selena and her fans is that it is also used to treat other conditions, and lupus is one of them.
Despite afflicting 1.5 million people in the United States alone, lupus isn’t a particularly well-known disease. For a lot of people, their only exposure to the disease has been Hugh Laurie’s famous one-liner from the long-running medical drama House.
It’s never lupus, according to Dr. House. Except for when it is, and for Selena and 1.5 million other people in the United States, it absolutely is lupus.
So what is lupus? According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s a chronic inflammatory disease that results from the body’s own immune system attacking its organs and component tissues.
This type of autoimmune disorder is exceedingly rare, but it can also be devastating, as it may affect basically any or all of a person’s internal organs, including everything from the joints and skin, to the heart and brain.
It isn’t well understood exactly what causes lupus, although there appears to be a genetic predisposition to developing it, while it can also be triggered by external factors.
Although the cause of lupus isn’t totally clear, the Lupus Foundation of America says that it isn’t a condition you can catch or give to someone.
Lupus strikes women far more than men, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, and it also affects young women more than older women.
“My take is that it has to do with estrogen,” the Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Thomas Osborn told CBS News.
People like Selena Gomez, who are diagnosed with lupus, can end up dealing with a lot of different symptoms, including fatigue, anemia, and swelling in the extremities and face, depending on what parts of the body are attacked by the immune system.
One symptom that lupus is known for is a butterfly-shaped rash that spreads across the cheeks and nose. Although it isn’t universal, the Mayo Clinic says that the butterfly rash is seen in most patients.
Due in part to the huge variety of symptoms, lupus is often mistaken for other conditions in the early stages. According to Dr. Osborn, patients with light sensitivity and fatigue problems are often misdiagnosed.
While there is no cure for lupus, there are treatments that can help people live with the disease.
“We do use a few medicines you’d call chemo, but we use different doses than the oncologists,” Dr. Osborn told CBS News. “Cancer patients get five times or more of chemotherapy doses.”
Selena told Billboard that her lupus is in remission following the chemotherapy treatment, and that she is focusing on “diet, routine and medication” to prevent a flare up.
Remission is another word that is often associated with cancer, but the Lupus Foundation of America says that it is often used to refer to lupus as well. While there isn’t a formal definition for lupus remission, it is used in a number of different ways.
Lupus remission can refer to a situation where the effects of the disease are no longer seen, even after medications have been stopped.
Since Selena says that she is taking medication in addition to sticking to a strict dietary routine, she probably falls into the category that the Lupus Foundation of America describes as “in remission on medications, or quiescent (quiet).”
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, this type of remission is what most people with the disease strive for, but not everyone is able to reach the point that Selena has.
Selena and others like her are still at risk of heart disease, stroke, and other complications, diet and medication do often allow people to function normally while the disease is quiescent. The key is getting a diagnosis and obtaining a personalized treatment plan before the disease is able to do irreparable damage.
Selena’s announcement has spurred talk of lupus, but it’s important to note that there are a lot of celebrities who work hard to raise awareness. For instance, Felicia Day’s Geek & Sundry helped raise $160,000 for lupus research and awareness during the launch of its Twitch.tv channel.
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