Each year, more than 16,000 people develop lupus, a disorder of the immune system. Many of them will develop skin lesions on their face. Now, there is a new use for an old treatment that eliminates the embarrassment of this common condition.
Beverly Gibson says it's been tough living with lupus, a disease that causes the body's immune system to attack its own cells. "It's changed my life a lot," she says.
The condition caused lesions inside her mouth and on her face. Even make-up wouldn't cover the spots completely. "I felt like everybody was looking at me, and you know, when they looked at me, all they looked at was my face," says Gibson.
Doctors say sun exposure can trigger the lesions. "It doesn't have to be sun exposure like sitting on the beach. It can just be trips to the car that add up and produce this kind of problem," says Joseph Jorizzo, M.D., a dermatologist at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
When sunscreen and medications aren't enough, doctors are turning to the drug thalidomide. "And it really has proven to be a lifesaver from the dermatologic standpoint in patients with very disfiguring skin diseases that fail traditional therapy," says Dr. Jorizzo.
Once used as a sleep aid, thalidomide was banned after causing severe birth defects in babies born to mothers who used it. It's had few negative side effects in this group and one very positive effect on Gibson. "I don't have those lesions or the sores anymore. It makes me feel more confident about myself." Gibson says that makes the outside world a much friendlier place.
One side effect that may occur is tingling in the feet and hands after prolonged use. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, between 500,000 and 1.5 million people in the United States have lupus.