Posted on July 04, 2018

Over 60 pregnant women diagnosed with lupus, a chronic and incurable autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body including the skin, joints, and organs, receive treatment each year at a specialized clinic at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Rheumatology Department. The specialist antenatal clinic for pregnant women with lupus is the first of its kind in the Middle East.

“Lupus is very challenging to diagnose and treat, especially in pregnant women, and it can lead to pregnancy loss, pre-eclampsia, premature birth, and a failure of the baby to grow. Since its establishment, our clinic has recorded excellent outcomes among patients and their babies,” stated Dr. Samar Al Emadi, Head of the Rheumatology Section at Hamad General Hospital.

According to Dr. Al Emadi, about five million people worldwide live with lupus. While the cause of the autoimmune disease is unknown, scientists believe three factors may play a role: heredity, hormones, and the environment. Ultraviolet rays from the sun, infections, and stress are thought to be possible triggers for the disease. Normally the body’s immune system produces proteins called antibodies that protect the body from viruses, bacteria, and germs. For a person with lupus, the immune system sees the body’s own healthy tissues and cells as foreign and creates autoantibodies that attack and damage healthy tissue. These autoantibodies cause inflammation, pain, and damage in various parts of the body leading to the different manifestations of lupus,” explained Dr. Al Emadi.

She said lupus has many different symptoms and affects each person differently, with symptoms ranging from a mild skin rash to serious complications impacting major organs such as the heart and brain. “The symptoms of lupus can come and go. They can also change over time, making lupus difficult to diagnose and treat. Lupus develops mostly in women between the ages of 15 and 45 years, but men, older people, and children can also be diagnosed with lupus. The disease is not contagious. No one can ‘catch’ lupus or ‘give it’ to someone else,” noted Dr. Al Emadi.

She added that the signs and symptoms of lupus might include extreme tiredness, headaches, painful or swollen joints, fever, anemia, swelling in the feet, legs, hands, and/or around the eyes, chest pain, a butterfly-shaped rash across the cheeks and nose, sun or light-sensitivity, hair loss, abnormal blood clotting, fingers turning white and/or blue when cold, and mouth or nose ulcers. Dr. Al Emadi stressed that it is important to see a doctor immediately if you experience some of these symptoms especially if they accompany the development of an unexplained rash and are coupled with fever, persistent aching, or fatigue.

Dr. Al Emadi noted that lupus treatment often includes corticosteroids and other medications to help reduce inflammation and minimize damage to the organs. “Although there is no cure for lupus, early diagnosis and proper medical treatment can significantly help control the disease. Because no two people with lupus are alike, the best treatment is one that is tailored to each patient’s specific condition. Patients who tend to have the best-controlled lupus are those who have learned to adapt to living with a chronic illness and who make living a healthy lifestyle a priority. This generally includes healthy eating, avoiding stress, using sun protection, and quitting smoking,” she stated.