It was a shock for the pop singer Selena Gomez and her fans when she cancelled her concerts this last summer, Gomez explained.
The reason for the cancellation?
Lupus, an autoimmune disease that predominantly impacts women and is mostly diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 30.
Other celebrities with the disease include Toni Braxton and Lady Gaga.
“I hope to give others courage to reveal themselves,” said the then 24-year-old Gomez.
Lupus erythematosus – the official medical name of the disease – can have greatly varying symptoms depending on the development of the condition. Joint pain, a reddened face and strokes are a few of many symptoms associated with lupus.
Rheumatologist Dr Falk Hiepe, chairman of the German Society for Lupus Research, said the disease is often treated across the entire field of medicine.
Autoimmune diseases cause the body to turn its defence mechanism – white blood cells used to keep the body safe from germs – against its own healthy cells.
Gomez underwent chemotherapy to help treat the disease.
Because of the varying symptoms, diagnosis used to take a long time, Dr Hiepe said.
But today, lupus detection is usually diagnosed within a few months, instead of several years.
Ines Ladig was only 21 when she received her diagnosis.
“I hurt everywhere. I couldn’t even dress myself,” the now 36-year-old recalled.
Her doctor failed to diagnose her with the disease, she explained. It was only after she checked herself into the hospital that they reached a diagnosis – it took three weeks.
Now, 15 years later, her immune system is “turned off” thanks to her chemotherapy treatment.
“(My immune system) is constantly suppressed, so I don’t destroy myself,” she said.
But a suppressed immune system comes with its own risks: In order to avoid germs that could harm her vulnerable body, she avoids trips by bus and train.
It helps that celebrities are open about their diagnoses with lupus, Ladig said.
Gomez, from the outside, is the picture of health and many people would not expect her to suffer from a chronic disease.
“This helps with understanding,” Ladig continued. “It at least sensitises people.”
After her diagnosis, she was able to finish her studies in business and worked for many years.
Today that is no longer possible. Her lungs have been so impacted by the disease that simply walking can be difficult.
“Doctors always say that (people with lupus) have a normal life expectancy.
“But the question is: What kind of life is that?” Ladig asked.
There is no cure for lupus, despite extensive research in stem cell therapy, according to experts.
Ladig has since joined a self-help group, where she can meet with other individuals coming to terms with the diagnosis.
It is there where she met Franziska Schuster, a 23-year-old who does not wish to use her real name. She is in the middle of her studies and worries whether a potential employer would even hire her if they find out she has lupus.
At the moment, one of her greatest challenges is to “bring her best performance and stay attentive during lectures, because you tire quite quickly”, she explained. “The concentration is not quite there.”
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Toni Braxton described her symptoms: “Pretty much when you have lupus, you feel like you have the flu every day.” It leaves her wishing she could just stay in bed.
“The toughest part” is when she has to perform, the singer said in the interview.
But how does the disease develop in the first place?
“You need a pre-disposition and there needs to be a trigger,” Dr Hiepe explained.
“There is a link between smoking and lupus, and stress can also trigger the di- sease.”
In other cases, it can be certain drugs or even the sun.
But the reason why it affects women is unknown.
The singer Seal is a well-known man known to have the disease. The scars on the singer’s face, which were often the subject of rumours, are the result of his disease.
More common, however, is redness of the face, Dr Hiepe explains. – dpa