Indepth: A Look at Lupus

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Host Bruce Karlin, M.D. (left) and Martin Kafina, M.D., this month on Physician Focus

The human body has an uncanny ability to heal itself, but sometimes it can go astray, or malfunction, really. That’s essentially what happens with systemic lupus, a disease of the immune system.

“Lupus is a condition where your immune system attacks your body.” says Martin Kafina, M.D. “Your immune system is supposed to be your friend and clean out your blood from viruses, germs and cellular debris, but instead your immune system gets irritated and confused and reacts against yourself. It can cause quite an amount of distress and sickness.”

In the June edition of Physician Focus with the Massachusetts Medical Society, Dr. Kafina, a clinical instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center who specializes in the private practice of rheumatology at Emerson Hospital in Concord, discusses the many and varied aspects of systemic lupus with program host and Hopkinton resident Bruce Karlin, M.D.

One of the causes of systemic lupus is the body’s white blood cells, which secrete antibodies intended to clean out a person’s blood system. In the process of doing that, however, the white cells secrete bad antibodies, which lead the immune system to react against itself, causing the condition. But lupus is a complex condition, and can include other triggers as well. Environmental factors, ultraviolet radiation, hormonal conditions, genetics, and trauma may also play roles. Certain drugs can trigger the immune system, causing a different form of the condition: drug-induced lupus.

Part of the mystery of lupus is that it can look like many other conditions and present differently in different patients. One patient can have a mild case, another may have a severe case, and there’s a large spectrum in between. Some patients can go for years and see many doctors before being diagnosed correctly.

Lupus affects about one and half million Americans, and more than 16,000 new cases are reported each year with ninety percent of those women between 15-44.

This month’s Physician Focus, Understanding Lupus, provides a basic introduction to this complex disease, including its causes, signs and symptoms, the criteria rheumatologists use to make a diagnosis, difficulties in diagnosing it, why it predominantly affects women, and the multiple approaches used to treat it.

Please join us this month for a conversation about what has been described as America’s most-common, least-known disease.