- Kim Kardashian West found out antibodies – proteins used by the immune system to defend the body against attack – in her body tested positive for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis on the latest episode of “Keeping Up With The Kardashians.”
- However, those antibodies don’t confirm a lupus diagnosis. No single test can detect the disease, which is little understood and is diagnosed via multiple tests and a medical history.
- Lupus has no cure and can cause symptoms like exhaustion, joint pain, swollen hands, hair loss, and fever.
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In a tearful conversation with her doctor, Kim Kardashian West found out that she may have lupus, an incurable autoimmune disorder that would explain her recent struggles with exhaustion, joint paint, and other ailments.
The celebrity’s blood had tested positive for antibodies to both lupus and rheumatoid arthritis – a sign her immune system was producing special proteins to ward off attack.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Kardashian West was diagnosed with lupus, however. Some advocacy organisations have called the condition a “mystery disease” because it can be tricky to diagnose, and doctors still aren’t sure what causes it.
Here’s what lupus is, what we know about it, and what it might mean for the star.
Lupus causes the body’s immune system to attack itself
Known as a chronic autoimmune disease, lupus is a condition where the body’s immune system can’t recognise the difference between healthy tissues and invaders like viruses and bacteria. As a result, the body produces defensive proteins, called antibodies, which attack healthy tissue.
This can cause a wide range of symptoms which range from mild to life-threatening, according to the Lupus Foundation of America, including headaches, fever, unexplained fatigue, joint pain and swelling, hair loss, sensitivity to light, chest pain, and a distinctive butterfly-shaped rash on the nose and cheeks.
Lupus is not contagious. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it, but it may be triggered by environmental factors such as an infection or exposure to certain types of medication such as some antibiotics.
Lupus can’t be diagnosed with a single test
Lupus can be a mysterious disease, and even experts don’t entirely know what causes it, according to Leticia Ocaña, a certified health education specialist and health educator with the Lupus Foundation of America.
As a result, it can be hard to test for. Experts use a combination of symptoms, tests, medical history, and other information to determine if a patient has lupus.
“There’s no single diagnostic test for lupus. It can take a long time to diagnose. Symptoms and signs can come and go or change over time,” Ocaña told Insider.
Women are more likely than men to have lupus, she added, and people of colour are more at risk than Caucasians. Family history and genetics are believed to have some role in the disease, Ocaña said.
A positive test result may not mean a patient has lupus
Testing for antibodies, or signs of inflammation or immune system response, is one method to narrow down a diagnosis, but a positive test result can also be caused by other things.
“These antibody tests inform physicians of what’s going on, but they’re not perfect,” Ocaña said. “Lupus symptoms can mimic those of other diseases. Antibodies can be found in other conditions.”
In the case of Kardashian West, for instance, the doctor also mentioned she tested positive for antibodies to rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic inflammation disorder. It shares many symptoms with lupus, including fatigue, painful joints, and swollen hands.
It’s possible that rheumatoid arthritis could have caused Kardashian West to test positive antibodies because of the inflammation, Ocaña said. Her doctors will have to do more tests to confirm a diagnosis of whether she has lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, both, or something else entirely.
Lupus is incurable, but it can be treated, especially if caught early
If you think you have symptoms of lupus, Ocaña said to see a medical professional as soon as possible. Although there is no cure for lupus, there are treatments to manage the symptoms, including medications and self-care techniques. The treatments tend to be most effective when administered early in the onset of the disease.
“The sooner you see a doctor, the better the outcomes are for management,” Ocaña said.