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Managing your health involves more than just scheduling a yearly physical. It requires doing research, knowing your family history, and keeping up with new tests and screenings for your age and risk categories. It’s also important to find a doctor with whom you feel comfortable discussing your questions and concerns. We feature four individuals of various ages who have learned the importance of being proactive about their health needs.
Name: Camille Abrahams, Age: 26, Health concern: lupus, Symptoms: fatigue, skin rashes, arthritis in fingers, hair loss,
Degree of involvement: Abrahams was diagnosed with a blood disorder at 16 called ITP (Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura), which caused her platelet count to be very low and made her prone to hemorrhaging, so she was used to visiting her hematologist and other doctors regularly. Abrahams recently noticed other symptoms that led to a diagnosis of lupus.
Results: She is on medication (steroids that cause her to gain weight), goes to the gym regularly, and eats a healthy diet.
Camille Abrahams was no stranger to the doctor’s office. Having been diagnosed with ITP (Immune Thrombocytopenic Purpura), a rare blood disease that hinders her blood’s ability to clot, she knew how important it was to maintain her health and see her doctor regularly. So when she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis at 26, Abrahams was determined to get a second opinion. Her diligence paid off.
“I was a very active person and I just felt myself slowing down and I didn’t know why,” says Abrahams, who works for a New York-based nonprofit agency that provides technical assistance to HIV programs. Early this year, during her regular workouts at the gym, Abrahams noticed that her knuckles would swell and hurt. She also noticed other symptoms such as hair loss, chronic fatigue, skin rashes on her elbows, and sensitivity to sunlight. She sought advice from her hematologist, a specialist she had been visiting since her teens because of her blood condition. He referred her to a rheumatologist, who ran more blood tests. The result was lupus. Abrahams’ white blood cell count was high and her A&A (anti-nuclear antibody) was positive. Over 90% of lupus patients have a positive A&A.
Dr. Dina Strachan, a New York-based dermatologist, says that black women should pay close attention to lupus symptoms. “Black women who suffer with lupus are much more likely to have problems or even die from [complications caused by the disorder],” she explains. Early symptoms include scaly patches, scarring, and lesions.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects various parts of the body, particularly the skin, kidneys, joints, and blood. Antibodies that usually attack foreign agents like bacteria start to attack healthy cells. The disease is approximately two to three times more prevalent in people of color and almost exclusively affects women. Abrahams was not aware that her blood condition could be considered a precursor for lupus. Since being diagnosed, she joined an online support group, Sisters with Lupus. Because stress can incite a flare-up of symptoms, Abrahams tries to keep stress to a minimum by practicing