Selena Gomez's disease: What is lupus?

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  • Lupus is an autoimmune disease that attacks healthy organs in the body
  • Selena Gomez recently announced she's taking time off because of lupus issues

(CNN)Lupus is a chronic illness with symptoms that can come and go, and flare ups that can be painful and prolonged. Just this week, pop star Selena Gomez announced she's taking time off to deal with issues stemming from her lupus. The 24-year-old singer also canceled tour dates in 2013 to deal with her disease.

"I've discovered that anxiety, panic attacks and depression can be side effects of lupus, which can present their own challenges," Gomez said in a statement to CNN. "I want to be proactive and focus on maintaining my health and happiness and have decided that the best way forward is to take some time off."
Gomez kicked off her Revival Tour in May and toured throughout the summer. Her representatives have not said whether she plans to cancel or reschedule future performances.
    Gomez has revealed in Billboard that her diagnosis with the autoimmune disease lupus was behind a recent hiatus from the spotlight.
    "I was diagnosed with lupus, and I've been through chemotherapy. That's what my break was really about. I could've had a stroke," Gomez told the magazine in a cover story published last year.
    About 1.5 million Americans have lupus, and it strikes mostly women between the ages of 15 and 44.

    What is lupus?

    Lupus is a chronic disease that can affect any part of the body -- typically the skin, joints, blood and kidneys, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. The immune systems of lupus sufferers essentially go haywire, and instead of fighting off viruses and bacteria with antibodies, their bodies create autoantibodies that attack healthy tissue. Symptoms can include fatigue, fever, weight loss, painful joints, rash, hearing loss, anemia, abnormal bloating and mouth ulcers.
    "I locked myself away until I was confident and comfortable again," Gomez told Billboard last year.
    Gomez's concern about having a stroke is legitimate.
    "There can be an increased risk of ... strokes, blood clotting in the legs or even heart attacks," said Dr. Joan Merrill, medical director of the Lupus Foundation of America.

    Is chemotherapy the normal treatment?

    Treatment depends on the intensity of the disease. Milder cases can be treated with immunosuppressants or anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin or steroids. However, more severe cases can be treated with chemotherapy drugs, the most common being Cyclophosphamide and Methotrexate.
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    Chemotherapy "can stop the more aggressive types of lupus very quickly, and people can do very well on it," Merrill said. "The dosages are usually less than what cancer patients take."
    Lupus can come and go -- flaring up and then heading into remission.
    "It's very unpredictable," Merrill said, adding that it's manageable with proper treatment.