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May 22, 2014

Healthy Living looks at lupus

May is celebrated as Lupus Awareness month. Lupus is a lesser known disease in Belize but there are a number of persons, predominantly women, who are living with lupus. There is not much awareness of the disease but the annual Lupus Walk will be held this upcoming weekend. This week’s Healthy Living is focused on the medical aspects of the disease.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting
The Lupus Foundation of America reports that about five million people around the world are living with some form of lupus. Internist, Doctor Jorge Hidalgo works in both the private and public health care system. He says that considering our size, Belize does in fact have a large number of persons with lupus.

 

Dr. Jorge Hidalgo, Adult Internist/Intensivist, K.H.M.H. & BHPL
“To be a small country we have a huge population of patients with lupus. One of the things that is very interesting is that it more affects the woman’s population at a ratio of ten woman to every one man. Why is that reason? We don’t know exactly.”

 

Lupus affects the immune system of the body.  There are two main types of lupus. The most common is systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE and discoid which affects primarily the skin.

 

Jorge Hidalgo

Dr. Jorge Hidalgo

“The immune system is like the army. And it’s the army that looks after us. What happen with lupus is that a part of the army develop a rebellion and it start to attack themselves. And that’s essentially lupus. For some reason the body start to create antibodies that start to attack the own body. The first complain is that they would have generalized fatigue, tiredness. They notice that when they go out and they are exposed to the sun they can have something that is very characteristic, like a bold butterfly on the cheeks. This is the most classic sign and obviously it’s not happening with everyone.  But it is the most common one. And then you have rashes on any part of the body.  Some people the only thing they start to present is an unexplained and unusual loss of hair. They start to lose their hair.”

Other common symptoms of lupus include achy joints, swelling of hands and feet, fever, skin lesions, rash, anemia, chest pain, light sensitivity, mouth ulcers, weight loss or gain, dry eyes, bruising, headaches and memory loss.

 

Dr. Jorge Hidalgo

“The most important factor is a genetic predisposition. If you have some relative that have lupus that have any type of autoimmune disorder. You are pre-disposed to develop that.”

 

Most persons develop lupus between the ages of twenty to thirty; but children and older adults can still develop the disease. The preliminary tests can be conducted in country; however the final confirmation of the diagnosis can only be done by sending tests abroad.

 

Dr. Jorge Hidalgo

“The first thing we say to the patients when they are diagnosed with lupus. It is not curable. But it’s a condition that you can live with and it can be well maintained and even you have periods of relapses and periods where you can be without any medication. With lupus we can experience complications in any organ, the most serious one we usually see in Belize is kidney failure and it’s important that people with lupus; if they are stable at least a general checkup twice a year.”

 

Medication is used to treat the individual symptoms caused by lupus. Some medication can even minimize severe complications. So, once again, early diagnosis is critical.

 

Dr. Jorge Hidalgo

“The most important thing that people is that you go to as soon as you feel like something is not right in your body. Go to your family doctor discuss the symptoms and try to get a diagnosis in an early stage; many things can be done to stop further complications.”

 

The annual Lupus Walk takes place on Saturday, May twenty-fourth, starting at the San Cas Parking Lot at five in the evening. 

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