What is Lupus?
By A. G. Moore
Autoimmune disease: auto, from the Greek, means self (as in automobile: a self-moving vehicle). An autoimmune reaction, in which the body essentially makes itself sick, can be as simple as a rash induced by contact with poison ivy, or a full-blown case of systemic lupus.
The analogy to a car is helpful here: a car (automobile) operates automatically only in the sense that someone turns it on, turns it off and directs its path. However, from time to time reports appear in the newspapers of cars that are out of control—cars that somehow accelerate on their own or fail to respond to instructions to stop, or turn. These automobiles, instead of being dutiful and useful servants, become dangerous agents. This is sort of what happens in an autoimmune disease.
The immune system exists to protect the body. A complex set of interactions go into operation when the body is under assault. The system includes the ability to surround and consume an alien entity (such as bacteria). The trigger—or ignition, if comparing it to a car—for the immune system to go into action is an external threat. In a healthy individual, when the threat is removed the immune system becomes quiet.
However, when autoimmune disease takes hold, the immune system goes haywire, like a car out of control. It starts attacking things that aren’t foreign because it sees healthy tissue as an enemy. In lupus, the attacking immune cells can go after just about anything—the lungs, heart, blood, brain, etc.
The mystery of why this happens is only vaguely understood. Some of the triggers that set off the autoimmune attack have been identified—Espstein-Barr and UV exposure, for example. But on the whole, the autoimmune syndrome that is at the heart of lupus remains a mystery. Once this mystery is solved, then a cure, or even a way of preventing the disease, may be found.
Right now, medicine can offer people who have lupus only one thing: possible control of their symptoms. In most cases this is achievable, though sometimes at great cost.
Lupus can be very resistant to treatment. Since it is still a mystery and since the remedies for the disease are diverse and variably effective, it makes sense that someone with lupus find the smartest, most skilled physician available to treat their disease. Only a doctor with insight, experience and top-notch training should be enlisted in the war against lupus, an obstinate and potentially fatal autoimmune illness.