Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. Symptoms vary from person to person and can include fatigue, joint pain, swelling, rashes, and fever. And since no two cases present exactly alike, lupus is notoriously misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis, a virus, or something else. The condition can harm the skin, kidneys, heart, nervous system, blood cells, and more.
Despite being a disease doctors often miss lupus is actually quite common. About 1.5 million people in the United States have it—including these eight celebrities.
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In 2014, Selena Gomez took some time out of the spotlight, and tabloids widely reported that she had been in rehab for drug and alcohol addiction. In fact, she had been undergoing treatment for lupus. "I was diagnosed with lupus, and I’ve been through chemotherapy. That’s what my break was really about. I could've had a stroke," she told Billboard in an October 2015 interview. "I wanted so badly to say, 'You guys have no idea. I’m in chemotherapy.'"
Though chemotherapy is best-known as a cancer treatment, it can also be used in rheumatology. The drugs (which are typically given at a lower dose) slow cell reproduction to control inflammation.
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In January 2012, the TV personality and entertainer was hospitalized for kidney failure, and just a few weeks later was treated for life-threatening blood clots in his lungs. Doctors diagnosed him with lupus, and since then, he has been outspoken about living with the condition. He served as the Grand Marshal for the Lupus Foundation of America's Walk to End Lupus Now in Washington, DC, in 2014. "I have lupus, but lupus doesn't have me," he said in an interview with the Lupus Foundation. I'm one of those people who wants to wave the flag and say, you can win this fight."
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In 2010, Lady Gaga told Larry King that she tested "borderline positive" for lupus. But to be diagnosed with lupus, a person must have certain symptoms and a positive blood test for self-attacking antibodies.
A positive test, which Lady Gaga might have been talking about, doesn’t mean you have lupusyou need to have symptoms, too. (And the pop diva told Larry she didn’t.) One in five women test positive for lupus-associated antibodies, but only about 10% have the autoimmune disease.
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Women of color are two to three times more likely than white women to develop lupus, says Dawn Isherwood, a health educator with the Lupus Foundation of America.
Braxton, who was diagnosed with lupus in 2008, tweeted in November 2011: "Lupus medication actually causes most women to gain weight. But we’re still fabulous! I’m going to work it on out."
Corticosteroidsone of the mainstays of lupus treatmentcan indeed promote weight gain. Still, exercise can help people with lupus manage their weight and will also improve their quality of life, Isherwood says.
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The scars on the singer’s face are the result of discoid lupus erythematosus, a type of lupus involving only the skin. Discoid lupus typically causes sores on the face and scalp but can affect the skin anywhere on the body. It can also cause hair loss. People with discoid lupus are often sensitive to ultraviolet light, and need to be careful about sun exposure.
Ten percent of people with discoid lupus will go on to develop systemic lupus, Isherwood says, although it’s possible these individuals already had the illness but just weren’t diagnosed.
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Even though lupus most often strikes women during their childbearing years, from 15 to 44, "anybody at any age can develop lupus, and has," says Isherwood.
Rapper Snoop Dogg’s daughter, Cori Broadus, first showed symptoms of lupuslightening of her skin, hair loss, and dramatic weight lossat age six, in 2005. According to a family profile published in People in 2010, Cori is now playing softball and volleyball, doing well in school, and taking several medications to keep the illness under control. "I can’t stay in the sun long, but I feel good most of the time," she told the magazine.
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When playing left field for the Oakland Athletics in 1999, Raines sought medical attention for extreme fatigue. He had swelling in his knees and ankles and was 15 pounds heavier than normal, suggesting he was retaining water; his doctor ordered a kidney biopsy, and diagnosed lupus.
The disease was attacking Raines’ kidneys, throwing off the normal balance of water and salt in his body. His case was severe, but he improved with radiation therapy and medication. Raines even went back to baseball, joining the Montreal Expos in 2001, and retiring in 2002 with the Florida Marlins.
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The broadcast journalist died of heart disease, a common complication of lupus, at age 62, just weeks after being diagnosed with the autoimmune disease. Still, he could have had lupus for a far longer time. Men may be more likely to be diagnosed later in the course of disease, Isherwood says, both because they are less likely to seek medical care in general, and because doctors may not consider lupus in their male patients.
About nine out of every 10 people with lupus is female, she explains, so it’s not surprising that "it’s sometimes thought of as a 'women’s disease.' "
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The great Southern novelist and short-story writer had her first attack of lupus in 1950, at age 25. In 1964, possibly due to the stress of surgery to remove a fibroid tumor, O’Connor’s lupus, which had been in remission, became active again. She died within months.
The writer’s father also had lupus. Close relatives of people with lupus have about a 5% risk of developing the disease themselves, a risk many times higher than for the general population. (An estimated 0.5% of the general population in the U.S. has lupus.) The tendency to develop lupus is carried in the genes, notes Isherwood, but other factors trigger the body’s autoimmune attack. Potential culprits include cigarette smoke, sunlight, stress, and certain infections.
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Barbara and George Bush’s dog Millie
The former first dog, springer spaniel, Millie, may be the most famous animal with lupus. The disease in canines is very similar to the human version, having the same symptoms, such as fatigue, hair loss, joint pain, and skin problems. Like people, dogs are tested for autoantibodies to confirm or rule out a diagnosis of lupus. And like humans, dogs can lead healthy lives with lupus if they receive effective treatment to quell their overactive immune systems. (Millie lived to be 12.)
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