Written by Rae Paoletta
“But you don’t look sick?”
Last year, pop star Selena Gomez revealed she suffers from lupus, an autoimmune disease that affects roughly 1.5 million Americans.
“Around a year ago I revealed that I have lupus, an illness that can affect people in different ways,” she told People. “I’ve discovered that anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be side effects of lupus, which can present their own challenges.”
While Gomez is a very visible face of the invisible illness, millions who struggle outside the limelight don’t have access to the care she does. Because symptoms of the lupus can easily mimic other conditions, it’s difficult for doctors to even diagnose a person in the first place — or get them proper care.
While there are still many mysteries around lupus and what causes it, we know it overwhelmingly affects women — more than 90% of lupus sufferers are female, according to the Lupus Research Institute. Women of color are two to three times more at risk for the disease than white people.
Though lupus is considered an invisible illness, those with the condition can exhibit external symptoms, including red flares called “butterfly rashes.” Internally, the person’s immune system fights the tissues and organs it’s supposed to protect, including the heart and brain.