A clinic established to treat patients with systemic lupus erythematosus - a chronic autoimmune disorder that disproportionately affects African Americans - continues to flourish since opening its doors 12 months ago at Grady Memorial Hospital. As a cutting edge leader, the clinic at Grady uses a multidisciplinary approach of medical care, education and support groups. Physicians at the clinic have already treated more than 120 patients and continue to see new patients, making the Lupus Clinic at Grady the first and only clinic of its kind in Georgia specifically dedicated to lupus treatment and research.
"The clinic was primarily established to address the needs of people at high risk for lupus," says clinic director and rheumatologist S. Sam Lim, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine. "Our primary goal is to provide the best treatment available for these patients."
Since opening in May 2003, the clinic has established a bi-monthly patient support group. It also provides educational materials for all lupus patients. To date, more than 90 percent of the lupus patients seen at Grady are African-American. The staff includes Dr. Lim; division director, Doyt Conn, MD, professor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine and chief of rheumatology at Grady; one rotating subspecialty resident in rheumatology; and one to three rotating medical residents or students from either Emory or Morehouse Schools of Medicine.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, Inc., lupus is a widespread and chronic (lifelong) autoimmune disease that, for unknown reasons, causes the immune system to attack the body's own tissue and organs, including the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain, blood, or skin. Normally, the immune system protects the body against viruses, bacteria and other foreign substances. In an autoimmune disease like lupus, the immune system loses its ability to tell the difference between foreign substances and its own cells and tissue. The immune system then makes antibodies and begins attacking itself.
Some of the symptoms of lupus include achy joints, frequent fevers of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, arthritis, prolonged or extreme fatigue, two different types of skin rashes, pleurisy or inflammation around the heart, sensitivity to sunlight, oral ulcers, as well as kidney, hematologic and neurologic disorders.
"When you hear the term lupus, you think of one disease, but has many different manifestations," Dr. Lim says. "It's a problem with the body that leads the body to attack itself. That's simply what lupus is."
The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that approximately 1.5 million American have a form of the disease. Lupus occurs 10 to 15 times more frequently among adult females than adult males, and develops most often between ages 15 and 44. Lupus is two to three times more common among African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans. While no one knows what causes lupus, researchers and scientists do believe there is a genetic predisposition to the disease. Environmental factors also play a role in triggering the disease, including infections, antibiotics, ultraviolet light, extreme stress, certain drugs, and hormones.
While the Grady Lupus Clinic offers similar treatment to that found in a mixed rheumatology practice, Dr. Lim says the clinic's advantage is that it offers more organized education, patient support and groundbreaking research. The clinic is specifically designed to assist and treat patients with lupus who would normally be seen among the Grady Hospital population.
Since opening, the lupus clinic has been accepted to participate in a network of high-profile academic institutions that are on the cutting edge of research. Dr. Lim says the goal is to encourage research investigators, government and pharmaceutical companies to invest in treatments for lupus.