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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 February 2007, 00:32 GMT
'Lupus shut down all my organs'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Chris Anderson with daughter Debbie
Chris first had problems in her 20s
For years Chris Anderson had endured a number of baffling and seemingly unrelated and unexplained symptoms.

But it was not until she started to suffer complete organ failure that doctors were finally able to pinpoint her disease as lupus.

Over the years 57-year-old Chris, from Stockport, Greater Manchester, has needed a heart valve replaced twice, has had three strokes, several mini strokes and a heart attack, which led to a stent being fitted to ease a blocked artery.

She was also diagnosed as an epileptic, had very high-blood pressure and suffered pre-eclampsia during pregnancy.

Diagnosis

"I felt generally terrible and extremely tired," said Chris, who spent three months in hospital after her all her organs began to shut down.

It was then that doctors at Manchester Royal Infirmary diagnosed lupus - an inflammatory condition that affects the immune system and can affect the joints, skin and internal organs.

There's a big need for more people to know about this condition, and all the different ways it can affect people
Chris Anderson

"My husband said there were about seven doctors all standing round my bed when they came up with the diagnosis.

"They had initially thought it was rheumatoid arthritis, which my mother and grandmother had, but earlier blood tests had ruled that out.

"I had heard about lupus, but I did not know what it was."

Medication

Chris said she is now on more than a dozen types of medication, which keeps the condition under control, and has fewer attacks.

"I am quite well and if you looked at me you would not know I was ill, but when I have a flare-up I get a pattern on my face that looks like a butterfly.

"It's very annoying when people say 'you look really well' when you feel awful!

"But I cope pretty well. It's one of those things you have to live with.

"There's a big need for more people to know about this condition, and all the different ways it can affect people."

Women with lupus have a five- to six-fold risk of developing coronary heart disease.

And Chris said it was her on-going heart problems that should have pinpointed the condition earlier.

Study

Now Chris is to take part in a major study aimed at finding out why women with lupus have such a high risk of developing heart disease.

The 190,000 Arthritis Research Campaign (ARC)-funded investigation at the University of Manchester will look into whether lupus patients' blood vessels age at a faster rate than others.

Some 250 female patients and 50 healthy volunteers are being recruited for the study by Dr Sahena Haque, a rheumatology specialist registrar at the ARC epidemiology unit in Manchester.

In collaboration with Dr Ian Bruce, senior lecturer in rheumatology at the University of Manchester, Dr Haque will be looking at why lupus patients develop conditions such as artherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) that usually affect only much older patients.

Photo Credit: Science Picture Library
Lupus cells in a blood smear

"Artherosclerosis in lupus develops much earlier, suggesting that the blood vessels in lupus patients may age at a faster rate," said Dr Haque.

"This, coupled with an inability to repair the blood vessels, may result in the premature atherosclerosis that we see.

"The aim of this study is to examine the balance between biological ageing and the ability to repair the blood vessels in lupus patients."

They hope the study will not only help identify patient with lupus at risk of having angina and heart attacks, but will also try to find the cause and ultimately develop better treatments for the general public.

Risk

A spokesperson for ARC said many patients were being diagnosed late.

"Chris's story is extreme but typical of the experience of many lupus patients in that her condition was not diagnosed until it was almost too late.

"We hope our research into why patients with lupus are also at serious risk of heart disease will lead to the identification of more at-risk patients, and have a real impact on patient care and treatment."

A spokesperson for Lupus UK said: "Coronary heart disease is one of the most important features of lupus because it is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity.

"A number of studies show that lupus patients are likely to develop heart disease at a younger age than the rest of the population.

"Research into this aspect of the disease is very important for the long term well-being of people with lupus."


SEE ALSO
'I gave my sister my kidney'
28 Oct 06 |  Health
Learning to live with Lupus
18 Oct 03 |  Health
Cancer drug offers lupus hope
13 Jan 03 |  Health
Baby hope for lupus sufferers
02 Jun 02 |  Health

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