People in purple T-shirts will take to the streets next month to raise awareness about lupus, an illness where the body is attacked by its on immune system.
The 5km fun walk on Saturday May 11 is being organised by Tygerberg Hospital, following World Lupus Day on Friday May 10.
About 500 people are expected to take part.
According to the hospital, one in every 1 000 people in the province are at risk of the disease.
The hospital itself currently treats almost 600 lupus sufferers.
Dr Riette du Toit, head of the hospital’s rheumatology unit, says people with a butterfly-shaped rash across the face after sun exposure, joint pain, fever headaches and low-grade fever and weight loss should see a doctor if the symptoms persist.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can be fatal if left undetected, she says.
“It is one of the autoimmune diseases, which means that instead of protecting us from infections, our immune systems turn against us.”
Symptoms can vary depending on which part of the body the disease attacks.
Just who gets lupus depends largely on a genetic roll of the dice and environmental triggers such as sun or oestrogen in contraception that are still nit fully understood, she says.
According to Dr Du Toit, 50% to 60% of patients with untreated lupus develop “kidney involvement”.
“Some patients may only experience joint pain or skin ailments and they might be fine. In the initial years, lupus can be very aggressive. Some of our sickest patients are in their late teens and early 20s, and that is when the disease is at its most aggressive and when left untreated it might cause serious complications and can even be fatal, sadly. Hormonal changes, during pubescent years, play a role,” Dr Du Toit says.
Treatment varies and depends on where the disease manifests in the body.
“Most patients are put on a course of chloroquine; an anti-malaria drug that was incidentally discovered to be effective for arthritis and lupus. It worked well for arthritis, skin, lethargy and reduces the patient’s risk of developing more serious complications.”
Steroids can also be used as well as other potent drugs that specifically target the immune system.
Lucinda Samery was admitted to Tygerberg Hospital in September 2012 after experiencing problems with her liver.
“I experience flu-like symptoms, and the doctors said my gall stones had to be removed. Doctors performed more tests and they told me they thought something else was wrong.”
After being hospitalised for a month, Ms Samery was diagnosed with lupus at the end of September 2012.
“I have adjusted. I did not know about the illness before and I was in shock but then I goggled it. When I am not in the mood to do things, my family understands and they are supportive.”
She says that looking back now she realises she had the most symptoms of lupus.
She says she still enjoys a good quality of life and works fulltime.
“Lupus is not the end of your life. You can live a happy life, and I just adjusted to my circumstances.”
Dr Du Toit says Ms Samery only needs to get annual check-ups.
“She has gone through the crisis period and is doing extremely well, and I wish that for all my patients.”
Lupus can also strike the nervous system.
“We see patients experiencing strokes, weaknesses of the hands and feet and memory loss,” says Dr Du Toit.
The Western Cape tends to have a “more aggressive form of the illness,” according to Dr Du Toit and she says that globally “cases have shown that ethnicities definitely play a role in how aggressive lupus can be.”
Entries for the fun walk are available at the rheumatology clinic, 7th floor, Room 9. Register by 7am and meet at at the ambulance deck on the east side of the hospital. Entry is free. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
A lupus support group meets at the clinic on the first day of the month from 10am to noon.