Lady Gaga’s family history and testing for lupus

Recently, People Magazine reported that Lady Gaga, 24, was “tested for lupus” and told the The Times of London that her aunt, Joanne, died of this disease (12 years before Lady Gaga was born). Gaga, who real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, was named after her aunt Joanne and also her grandmother Angelina Germanotta. Lupus can run in families and there are new genetic tests that can tell whether or not you are at risk for this autoimmune disease.

The immune system is essential to survival, and even a small decrease in immune function can leave a person susceptible to infection. But the immune system itself can also cause disease, by inappropriately attacking the body’s own organs, tissues, or cells.  More than 80 autoimmune diseases are known. Some, such as type 1 diabetes, attack specific organs, while others, such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), involve multiple organs. Although many autoimmune diseases are rare, collectively they affect approximately 5 to 8 percent of the U.S. population. A disproportionate number of people with autoimmune disorders are women.

We have previously reported on lupus (short for systemic lupus erythematosis or SLE) when Lucy Vodden, who inspired the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” died from this disease last year. Images of butterflies and wolves are associated with lupus because of the butterfly-shaped rash that appears on the face of people with the disease. When lupus was first discovered hundreds of years ago, doctors of that time thought that patients looked like they had been bitten by wolves (lupus is the Latin word for wolf).

When Lady Gaga said she was “tested for lupus“, this could mean one of two things.

Lady Gaga did not specify what kind of tests she had and we respect her right to privacy. Gaga did say, however, that she doesn’t “want anyone to be worried.”

Above: Lady Gaga’s family tree. For the meaning of the symbols, see our article on President Obama’s family medical history. You should know your family’s medical history back to your great-grandparents as well as all of your aunts and uncles. This information is at least as important as your current diet and lifestyle when it comes to prevention, early detection and treatment of diseases. What if you’re adopted or simply don’t know your detailed family medical history? It is now possible for you to undergo personal genetic testing for a wide variety of diseases and conditions and you might want to discuss this with your doctor (see www.GenomicMedicineInitiative.org).

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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