May 5, 2021
May 10 is National Lupus day. Many people with Lupus have heat sensitivity. Rheumatologist George Stojan, an assistant professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University Medical School and co-director of its lupus center, studied more than 1,600 patients, and he found a relationship between their worsening symptoms and changes in the weather or air quality, such as intense heat or cold, high humidity, wind and severe air pollution.
“Ultimately, if our results are confirmed in future studies, it is inevitable that rising temperatures and weather extremes expected as a result of climate change will have an effect,” Stojan said, adding that climate change ultimately could be a key factor in treating lupus.
Stojan, who presented his research at a recent meeting of the American College of Rheumatology, obtained data from the Environmental Protection Agency on temperature, wind, humidity, barometric pressure and air quality to study the relationship between those factors and patients’ symptoms in the 10 days prior to their visit to the lupus clinic.
“My study is the first evidence to my knowledge that these atmospheric factors affect the expression of an autoimmune disease,” he said. In the study, he noted that high temperatures and wind have been shown to influence the immune systems in other diseases, and could play a similar role in lupus, although the exact mechanism remains unclear.
Different atmospheric changes had different effects. Rising temperatures caused joint swelling, inflammation of the tissues that surround organs, rashes, and a decline of important blood cells, including white and red cells and platelets. High humidity resulted in joint swelling and inflammation. Air pollution also produced inflammation, as well as new rashes, blood abnormalities and joint flares (a worsening of joint stiffness and swelling). Wind caused joint flares, lung, blood and neurologic problems.
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Lupus is one of the cruelest, most mysterious diseases on earth—an unpredictable and misunderstood autoimmune disease that ravages different parts of the body. Research shows lupus is more pervasive and more severe than people think, and has an impact that the public doesn’t realize.
Some facts you may not know about lupus…
- Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that ravages different parts of the body.
- No two cases of lupus are alike. Common symptoms include joint pain, skin rashes, overwhelming fatigue and fevers that last for days or weeks. Most people with lupus don’t look sick.
- Lupus can impact any organ or tissue, from the skin or joints to the heart or kidneys. Two leading causes of serious illness and death from lupus are kidney disease and heart disease.
- Lupus usually develops between ages 15 and 44 and it lasts a lifetime.
- Lupus can strike anyone, but 90 percent of the people living with lupus are females. Men, children and teenagers develop lupus too.
- While people of all races and ethnicities can develop lupus, lupus occurs two to three times more frequently among African Americans, Asians, Hispanics/Latinos, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans than among Caucasians.
- While the causes of lupus are unknown, scientists believe hormones, genetics (heredity) and environmental factors are involved—more research is needed to better understand the role of these factors in people with lupus.
- Lupus can be expensive to live with and treat. The average annual direct and indirect costs incurred by a person with lupus can exceed $21,000 annually, a higher cost per patient than those living with heart disease, bipolar disorder, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension and asthma.
- Lupus can be difficult to diagnose. There is NO single blood test to diagnose lupus, and its symptoms mimic those of other diseases, vary in intensity and can come and go over time. More than half of those afflicted with lupus suffered at least four years, and saw three or more doctors before obtaining a correct diagnosis of lupus.
- Early diagnosis is crucial to preventing long-term consequences of the disease. If you notice signs or symptoms of lupus, be sure to engage your doctor and ask questions.