Medical experts have said that pregnancy is achievable in women with lupus.
This was disclosed at a panel discussion at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, in recognition of the 5th annual World Lupus Day celebration hosted by The Labalaba Foundation, an NGO.
Lupus is a chronic, auto-immune disease that affects more women than men. Lupus occurs when your body’s immune system attacks your own tissues and organs. It has no cure but can only be managed.
Inflammation caused by lupus can affect many different body systems — including your joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart and lungs.
If a patient has lupus, the patient’s risk is higher for other health problems that are common in women, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
The panel session, titled “Sexual Health in Lupus”, featured Dr. Joseph Olamijulo, a consultant gynecologist at LUTH, who said that lupus was predominantly common in women.
Olamijulo said that women in their reproductive years suffered more from lupus. The consultant gynecologist said that pregnancy is achievable in lupus but it is a high-risk pregnancy.
According to the expert, health should be optimised and such patients should be assigned to a specialist and booked for an antenatal clinic as soon as possible.
He said that babies born to women with lupus would not necessarily have the illness because it was not genetic.
Also, a Senior Registrar in Rheumatology, Dr. Etse Igebu on the panel, said that lupus affects women in their reproductive years between 25 to 45 years.
The expert said that the next question that came to the mind of such women was the possibility of getting married.
She said that women also complained of vaginal dryness and pain during sexual intercourse while some of them were depressed and others lost their self-esteem.
However, Dr Igbebu said that they could get married, adding that medical expert would always encourage them to use lubrication and take their medications accurately and build up their self-esteem.
In addition, she stated that the mode of delivery for lupus patients could be by normal delivery or via a ceaseran operation. She added:
“We support them the best way that we can. We have patients that were diagnosed with lupus at the age of 13 and they are happily married.
“Lupus does not curb sexual life and does not disturb being married.”
Dr. Kehinde Shodimu, a consultant psychiatrist at LUTH, said that lupus affected practically all organs of the body due to the systemic nature of the illness.
Dr Shodimu said that patients were prone to depression and could have a bit of low self-esteem or confidence. She said that psychiatrists do supportive psychotherapy for lupus patients who come in from time to time.
She said that due to stigma, a lot of people would not attend hospitals. The psychiatrist encouraged lupus patients to focus on positivity, self-love and lifestyle modification.
DA Deputy Director, Medical Social Services, LUTH, Titi Tade, said that lupus was more common than was earlier reported. Tade said:
“Studies have shown that it is found among women in Nigeria. When a patient gets the first sign of lupus and has been treating malaria without being healed, they turn it to be a spiritual problem.”
Tade said that lupus is not a spiritual problem but a medical illness. The deputy director further stated that most patients were diagnosed when married and the pains and feelings that came with it made sexual intercourse difficult.
She said that the support structure around the patients is very important but the focus mainly is always on the patients.
She said that a lot of education and awareness needed to be done with the spouse, children and in-laws, based on the approval of the patient.
Earlier, Dr. Ayesha Akinkugbe, Consultant Dermatologist and Physician, LUTH, said the mission of The Labalaba Foundation was to create awareness about lupus and ensure that the quality of life was improved for the patients.
Akinkugbe, who was also the co-founder of the NGO, said that the Foundation had existed for five years, advocating for lupus patients.
She said over the years, the NGO had done various activities which included the education of secondary school students, the community and supporting family members too. She stated:
“We also have various activities for the support around lupus patients, e.g lupus patients coming together for education, nutrition habits, lifestyle and counseling.
“We also have a frank talk with husbands and brothers, that is the men that are around lupus patients.”
She said that lupus is a chronic condition but not a life-threatening one, hence the need for early diagnosis, intervention and treatment. The co-founder said the NGO wants to correct the narrative that it is a spiritual problem.
According to her, it is a multi-systemic condition and that no two persons presenting would be the same but could be treated once diagnosed.
She said the major challenge facing the NGO is reaching out and creating awareness and advocating for better access to health for lupus patients. She stated:
“We also need partners who will join us in supporting and funding the various activities we are engaged with. We would love partnership from companies but more importantly, we need to move to the next level which is advocacy.
That is where we can advocate for free treatment, reduced treatment and available treatment for lupus patients because it is expensive.”
The session featured Prof Olufemi Adelowo, who stated that lupus is a chronic disease with a normal life expectancy if diagnosed early and managed by Rheumatologists.