Lupus expert debunks 7 common myths about the autoimmune disease: ‘Not a death sentence’

Fatigue, pain, swelling, rashes and hair loss are just some of the symptoms that affect people with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks healthy tissue.

Some 1.5 million Americans are living with lupus, with about 16,000 new cases each year, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, based in Washington, D.C.

There are many myths surrounding lupus that can make it difficult for people to understand and manage the disease, according to Dr. Brooke Goldner, a board-certified medical doctor and an autoimmune professor at Cornell University.

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“It’s essential to educate yourself and others about lupus to dispel these myths and increase understanding of the disease,” Golder, who was diagnosed with lupus at the age of 16, told Fox News Digital.

For Lupus Awareness Month, Goldner shared some of the biggest misconceptions — and set the record straight on a number of issues.

The most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), but it’s not the only form of the disease. 

“SLE can have a wide range of symptoms that may come and go, making it challenging to diagnose,” Goldner said. 

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Some of the common symptoms of SLE include fatigue, joint pain and stiffness, fever, hair loss, skin rashes and sensitivity to sunlight.

Cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE), a less common form, affects only the skin. 

The two least common types are neonatal lupus and drug-induced lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.

Lupus cannot be transmitted from person to person, Goldner said. 

“It occurs when your immune system attacks your own tissues and organs, causing inflammation and damage,” she said. 

“Lupus can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain and other organs.”

“While lupus does affect more women than men, it can affect anyone, including children and men,” Goldner said. 

Anyone can develop lupus. Yet 90% of cases affect women between the ages of 15 and 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Medicines like chemotherapy are often used in severe lupus cases, but it is not a form of cancer

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“It is an autoimmune disease, whereby the immune system begins attacking the body’s own tissues rather than just foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria,” Goldner told Fox News Digital.

“Chemotherapy is known as an immune system suppressant, which can be lifesaving when lupus is causing organ failure and aggressive immunosuppression is required.”

While stress can trigger lupus symptoms, Goldner noted it is not the cause of the disease.

“The exact cause of lupus is unknown, but it is believed to be a combination of genetic, environmental and hormonal factors,” she said.

Genetics will determine whether you have the possibility of developing lupus, but it is not a condition you are born with, according to Goldner. 

“Just like someone with the genetics to become type 2 diabetic will not develop the disease unless they have a diet and lifestyle that triggers it, the same is true for lupus,” she said.

Lupus is often triggered during times of physical and emotional stress combined with a nutrient-poor inflammatory diet, the expert added.

While lupus can be a serious disease, it is “not a death sentence,” according to Goldner. 

“While there is no medical cure for lupus, there are treatments available that can help manage the symptoms and prevent damage to vital organs,” she said.

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“Treatment may include medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, immunosuppressants and corticosteroids.” 

In addition to taking medications, many people with lupus can manage symptoms through healthy lifestyle interventions, according to Goldner.

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“Lifestyle changes such as regular exercise, healthy eating and stress management can help improve the quality of life for people with lupus,” the expert said.

As a survivor of lupus and a physician, Goldner said she has dedicated her life to bringing more awareness to the disease and helping people gain the power to manage and eliminate symptoms through nutrition and lifestyle.

“This is not to suggest that people should not use medical treatments that can be lifesaving,” she said, “but rather that they embrace taking control of all the variables they can manage, like how they eat, sleep and manage stress with self-care, so they can minimize illness and maximize recovery and remission.”

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