May is Lupus Awareness Month, and seven-time Grammy award winner Toni Braxton has opened up about her “traumatic” life-threatening health scare due to living with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common form of lupus. Having been diagnosed with the condition in 2008, she shares how she underwent a procedure last September due to 80% of the main artillery in her heart being blocked.
What Is Lupus?
Lupus is an autoimmune disease whereby your body’s immune system begins to attack your own tissues and organs. Essentially, your immune system begins to attack healthy tissues, as opposed to just the unhealthy ones.
What Are The Symptoms?
While no two cases of lupus are exactly alike, common symptoms include:
- Skin rashes
- Swelling in the joints
- Extreme fatigue
- Low fevers
- Swelling around the eye
The Different Kinds of Lupus
There are four kinds of lupus, namely:
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): Accounting for about 70% of all lupus cases, it causes inflammation of multiple organs or organ systems in the body.
- Cutaneous Lupus: This kind only affects the skin. Symptoms typically include red, scaly skin, and a rash that extends across the cheeks and bridge of the nose.
- Drug-induced Lupus: This is a lupus-like disease caused by certain prescription drugs. The drugs most commonly connected to this include hydralazine (used to treat high blood pressure), procainamide (used to treat Irregular heart rhythm), and isoniazid (used to treat tuberculosis). Symptoms include flu-like symptoms, muscle, and joint pain with swelling, and serositis (inflammation around the lungs or heart that causes pain or discomfort).
- Neonatal Lupus: This is a rare condition that impacts infants of women who are impacted by lupus. At birth, the baby may have a skin rash, liver problems, or low blood cell counts. Fortunately, these symptoms typically disappear completely after six months.
Lupus and Heart Disease
The inflammation caused by lupus can negatively impact various body systems, including your skin, joints, brain, and in Braxton’s case, your heart. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, it increases one’s risk for heart disease, including coronary heart disease (CHD). This occurs when fatty material builds up in the arteries and decreases blood flow to the heart.
“I did a specialized test, and they looked at my heart and saw some abnormalities,” she shares, which is how it was discovered that she needed a coronary stent. “My left main coronary artery was 80% blocked. The doctors told me I could’ve had a massive heart attack, I would not have survived.”
Braxton often shares how she experienced an aching chest. “I thought I was just sad because unfortunately my sister had just passed, and I thought ‘Wow, I’m really aching in my heart for my sister”. While she was sad about her sister’s passing, the aching chest was a sign of underlying health issues. “It was my body talking to me, telling me something’s not quite right.” Two days after the screening, she underwent emergency surgery, and a stent, which helps keep the passageway open, was inserted into her heart.
The Importance of Routine Health Checks
“It was a traumatic moment for me. I was in shock,” Braxton shares. She said she had put off some of those routine urine and blood tests prior to experiencing chest pains, thinking she would be “fine.” This is something she aims to raise awareness about, now teaming up with Aurinia Pharmaceuticals for their “Get Uncomfortable” campaign.
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The “Get Uncomfortable” Campaign
The initiative works to encourage and empower those affected by lupus and lupus nephritis (a severe kidney disease caused by SLE) to “get uncomfortable” by prioritizing their routine testing and health checks. This is very important, especially for women of color. Braxton emphasizes that black and Asian women are four times more likely to develop lupus nephritis.
According to the National Institutes of Health, women get the disease nine times more often than men. “I know we’re all scared sometimes to go to the doctor… But I find that knowing is empowering and it gets my doctors on top of my lupus and my kidney health. And that’s the most important thing.”
Listening To Your Body
The Un-Break My Heart singer shares that she was hospitalized for a few days after her emergency surgery. Now, seven months after the surgery, Braxton shares how she is feeling good, but taking her health journey day by day. “I’m going to be honest, sometimes the bad days get me down. I’m not superwoman,” she shares, adding that “when my body tells me to take it down and relax, I have to listen to it.”
Her advice? “Don’t miss your doctor’s appointments. They’re so important.” She further adds that “just because you have lupus doesn’t mean it, has you… We can live with it.”
While the condition cannot be diagnosed with a single lab test, several tests may help your doctor confirm your diagnosis. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, make sure you visit your doctor to establish this and rule out other ailments.