The 1.5 to 2 million people—primarily some combination of black, female, and under 40—who have been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease lupus have such a wide range of symptoms that it can sometimes be difficult to pin down what is and isn’t lupus. Unlike most autoimmune diseases, which have a specific target such as the thyroid or skin, lupus can affect almost any part of the body. In particular, it causes problems with connective tissue within the organs. The most common symptoms are rash and sensitivity to light, though almost any symptom someone experiences could be lupus, particularly if there seems to be no other explanation.
In particular, experts note that the initial symptoms of lupus, such as headaches and seizures, are difficult to distinguish from symptoms of neurological problems, despite lupus not being a disease of the nervous system directly. People who have lupus are at an elevated risk for stroke, because it affects the heart, and about one n three lupus sufferers has migraines as a result. In some patients, lupus can even cause them to hear voices or experience mood swings. These factors can cause doctors to erroneously treat patients for neurological conditions they don’t actually have. Unfortunately, once lupus is correctly diagnosed, the treatments themselves may have adverse neurological effects.
Now a new treatment technique is being investigated that involves taking a personal approach to treating patients with lupus. Each individual case of lupus is different, and using DNA sequencing, doctors hope to discover what specifically is behind the disease in each patient and address the specific manifestation of the disease that patient has. This targeted treatment, if feasible, would reach the particular genetic irregularities in an individual patient and treat the patient’s disease directly.
Until then there are other experimental treatments being developed for lupus. One is actually derived from parasitic worms. Researchers hope that the same molecule that the parasites use to hide from the immune system could do the same for the organs that set it off in autoimmune diseases such as lupus. This would shield the organs from the immune system, without turning it down to the point that the patient is vulnerable to actual infections.