Dr. FAQ: Tammy Utset on Lupus

Autoimmune disorders are a strange type of disease, a case where the body’s biology isn’t breaking down but rather is functioning too well. In disorders such as Type I diabetes, arthritis and multiple sclerosis, the body’s natural defenses stage something of an internal coup, mistakenly attacking the body’s own tissues instead of viral or bacterial invaders. In a lot of these diseases, the immune system chooses just one system to mistakenly attack – the pancreas in diabetes, or the joints in arthritis. But one autoimmune disorder is less specific, striking out against multiple targets that can differ from patient to patient – lupus.

Known clinically by its longer name, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), lupus afflicts roughly 1% of the American population, according to CDC statistics. But that number could also be three times higher, the CDC cautions, an imprecise figure partially down to the difficulty of diagnosing the disease. As Tammy Utset, associate professor in the Section of Rheumatology at the University of Chicago Medical Center describes in the videos below, lupus can present with any number of different symptoms, from fever, rash and fatigue to hair loss, joint pain and kidney disorders.

“It’s a little tricky because the symptoms are so varied from person to person,” Utset said. “That’s why it can take a long time for lupus to come to diagnosis after the symptoms start, because the symptoms early on can be relatively non-specific.”

The diverse range of symptoms is only one of lupus’ mysteries. The disease also has a very skewed incidence between genders, with 9 out of 10 cases in women. Across ethnic lines, lupus strikes minority populations more often – the CDC states that the disease is three times more likely to strike African-American women than Caucasian women, and symptoms tend to be more severe in these populations. At the University of Chicago, the Gwen Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research has been grappling with research questions regarding this discrepancy and potential genetic factors in the development of lupus. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss some of the genetic research coming from that group, but today, here are four videos of Dr. Utset talking about the unique clinical character of this unusual, but hardly rare, autoimmune disease.

About Rob Mitchum (525 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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