In the July 19 issue of People Magazine, I was surprised (and happy) to see an article profiling Snoop Dogg called "Lupus United Our Family". His daughter was diagnosed with Lupus five years ago (when she was six years old).
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune condition that can damage any part of the body (skin, joints, and/or internal organs). The condition cycles through remissions (symptoms improve) and flares (symptoms worsen). There are several types of Lupus and its severity can vary from person to person.
According to research cited by the Lupus Foundation of America:
-At least 1.5 million Americans have Lupus.
-Lupus strikes mostly women of childbearing age (15-44).
-Women of color are 2-3 times more likely to develop Lupus.
Celebrity spokespersons are widely used in public health education campaigns. Lance Armstrong and the fight against Cancer...Michael J. Fox and the fight against Parkinson's Disease. But we don't tend to hear about Lupus. The only public face that I remember in the last 10 years is Mercedes Yvette. She was a contestant in Cycle 2 of America's Next Top Model (2004). As the stress of the competition increased, viewers were able to see the toll it took on Mercedes. She was increasingly fatigued and her hair started falling out. We also caught a glimpse of her large pill organizer as the girls packed up for their trip to Italy. Mercedes went on to become a spokesperson for the Lupus Foundation of America.
Since then, I have only begun to hear about Lupus within the past two years. Just as the Snoop Dogg article came out, a microsite was launched on Oprah's website (July 15, 2010). The site with the tag line "Don't let Lupus sneak up on you" includes a self assessment and stories from patients who delayed diagnosis. Back in March 2009, a campaign called "Could I Have Lupus?" was also launched by the US Department of Health and Human Services. This is a more extensive site which includes diaries of women with Lupus and a discussion board.
In addition to these campaigns and websites educating the public about symptoms, I would encourage them to get celebrity spokespeople (like Snoop Dogg). They could reduce the stigma around help seeking for this condition and some of the daily struggles that can affect lifestyle (e.g., joint pain and sensitivity to sunlight). And of course, diagnosis is not as easy as knowing the symptoms (many of which are non-specific, like fatigue). Lupus is notoriously difficult to diagnose. So it can take time, money, and many doctors/tests to figure it out. It usually requires referral to a Rheumatologist to monitor the condition and medications properly. Will those reached by these campaigns have access to such resources? Raising awareness about symptoms and reducing stigma around help seeking to diagnosis is just the first step...but thanks to Snoop for speaking out!