What is Lupus? Selena Gomez has kidney transplant for disease

American popstar Selena Gomez has undergone a kidney transplant at just 25 years old, she revealed on Thursday.

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Gomez has Lupus — an autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s tissue and causes severe pain, inflammation and fatigue — which damaged one of her kidneys beyond repair.

The former Disney star is one of the biggest popstars on the planet, having sold millions of albums, starred in a series of hit TV shows and movies and boasts the most Instagram followers — 126 million — in the world.

She made the announcement on her Instagram page, revealing that her best friend selflessly donated one of her kidney’s so Gomez could have a chance at recovery.

“There aren’t words to describe how I can possibly thank my beautiful friend Francia Raisa,” she wrote under a photo of the pair laying in their hospital beds side by side.

“She gave me the ultimate gift and sacrifice by donating her kidney to me. I am incredibly blessed. I love you so much sis.”

Gomez confirmed she had been diagnosed with the autoimmune disease in 2015 after cancelling her world tour to undergo chemotherapy for the disease.

Her announcement on Thursday sparked a flurry of talk online and drove millions to Google. The most searched term in the US on Thursday was ‘Lupus’.

So what exactly is Lupus and who’s at risk?

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), otherwise known as lupus, is a chronic condition that results from a malfunctioning immune system.

According to Lupus NSW, the disease causes the immune system to produce an excess of proteins called antibodies that attach themselves to various structures in the body.

Instead of working to identify foreign bodies (such as bacteria and viruses) and attack them to keep us healthy, the immune system attacks our healthy tissue, including the skin, joints, kidneys and lining of the heart and lungs. This causes ongoing inflammation and pain throughout the body.

Symptoms

Lupus symptoms vary on a case by case basis, but some of the most common include:

  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Skin rash
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Mouth and nose ulcers
  • Poor kidney function
  • Fever
  • Seizures or visual disturbances (resulting from inflammation of the nervous system)

Symptoms occur most prominently during “flares”, which can be frequent or infrequent depending on the person. They are usually triggered by stress, exposure to UV light, certain medications and dietary factors.

There is no way to tell how long a flare will last or how often they occur, making it a frustrating condition for both patients and doctors to treat.

Risk factors

Women aged between 15 and 45 years old are most of risk of Lupus and account for 90 per cent of cases. There are instances of childhood Lupus, male Lupus, and Lupus in older people, but these cases are rare.

Diagnosis and treatment

There is no medical test to definitively diagnose Lupus and as symptoms vary from patient to patient, it can sometimes take months or years for a person to be properly diagnosed with the disease.

Better Health Victoria says doctors usually diagnose the condition with a combination of exams and tests including:

  • discussing your symptoms and medical history with you
  • physical examination – including your joints and skin to look for any signs of change, inflammation and rashes
  • blood tests that highlight the presence of inflammation or particular antibodies.

Early diagnosis is important because of the irreparable damage the malfunctioning immune system can do to your organs, namely the kidneys.

There is no cure or specific medication for Lupus, but there are various medications and lifestyle changes that can help manage symptoms and control the overactive immune system.

Anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medications are often prescribed, while exercises, stress control and reduced exposure to sunlight can also help.

Most people who are living with Lupus are able to live long and active lives if the disease is properly managed.